Will Self's 1997 novel is a satire on contemporary machismo and also a challenge to familiar notions of what constitutes civilised behaviour. This skilful adaptation by Patrick Marmion captures its blend of shrewd observation, linguistic bravura and shameless puns.
Bryan Dick brings an angsty revulsion to artist Simon Dykes, who wakes up one morning to find he’s in a world run by chimps. At first he thinks he has simply guzzled too many drugs, but soon his longstanding obsession with perspective is being sorely tested. As Simon struggles to adjust to a society in which bum display and voracious public sex are the norm, psychiatrists try to rescue him from the delusion that he’s human.
Indebted to Franz Kafka and Jonathan Swift, the story takes an idea that might suit a five-minute TV sketch and extends it beyond absurdity into the realms of madness. Jokes about bottoms proliferate, as do densely scientific speeches, yet after a rather frantic opening first-time director Oscar Pearce maintains a firm grasp on the show’s tumbling craziness.
The cast includes Stephen Ventura as Simon’s critic-baiting gallerist and John Cummins as an Oxford academic fond of quaffing liquid excrement. All the actors are wholly committed to their apish physicality - squirming around on crutches and indulging in a feast of sniffing, whooping, grooming and rutting. The standout is Ruth Lass as Zack Busner, a maverick shrink who focuses the piece’s unsettling interest in modern neuroses and biological destiny.