Chimps at the Hampstead Theatre [Venue information & Performances on here]
If you ve ever been the victim of the hard sell, you will undoubtedly empathise with the protagonists of Simon Block's new play Chimps.
Mark (Darren Tighe) and Stevie (Ashley Jensen) thought it would be just another routine Saturday - Stevie planned to go to her self-defense class and Mark would work on the nursery for their soon-to-be-expected first baby. And then door-to-door salesmen Lawrence (Nicholas Woodeson) and Gabriel (Fraser James) come knocking with news that the walls of the young couple's new home are in danger of collapsing unless they pay out for miracle cure Excote. Stevie, who is wise to the pair, just wants rid of them but the feckless, unemployed Mark proves highly susceptible to the sales pitch which exposes cracks in the couple's relationships much wider than the fictitious ones in their walls.
From the moment that the salesmen are admitted to the home, there is a sense of almost surreal menace. They live by industry jargon and sales slogans - Always Be Closing - and aren't about to be deterred by the fact that Mark and Stevie can't afford the ir ‘solution . But, as we soon learn, the palpable threat is not just to the young couple. Contrary to first appearances, the smiling, young Gabriel is not the middle-aged Lawrence's assistant, but has, in fact, been sent to judge whether Lawrence has the appropriate, killer sales instinct.
Although the acting is strong throughout, Woodeson really outshines the rest as his Lawrence fights for professional survival and dignity. Tussling with competing desires to close the deal and go home to his wife with a commission or take pity on the couple and lose his job, Lawrence wavers between ruthlessness and desperation. In the end, we have much more sympathy for him than for the pathetically weak and gullible Mark and the sassy Stevie who should know better.
There is some very good writing in this play and the situation is believable. Given the building menace, though, I expected a much more violent climax. I was disappointed in the real ending, for both its comparative weakness and its slowness in coming. The second act went on just a tad too long and left me flagging from the relentless sales pitch. But overall, this is a pleasingly tense and uneasy evening at the theatre. You ll never open your door to strangers again!
Terri Paddock, July 1997