Academic journal article TheatreForum

The Aquatic Ape

Academic journal article TheatreForum

The Aquatic Ape

Article excerpt


Pippa: a beauty therapist from north-west England, aged 40.

Barney: her husband, an academic, also aged 40.

The play is set in a shark cage in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of South Africa.

Pippa and Barney stand side by side, wet-suited and with their regulators in, staring up at the ceiling. Barney gives the "okay" sign to the people on the boat above. Pippa gives thumbs up'. Barney slaps her hand and she quickly corrects to "okay". Thev both give the "thumbs down" sign and the cage descends, becoming bathed in blue, rippling light. They turn away from each other as they drop. Barney grips the side, trying lo hide his fear, while Pippa swims around the cage. She paints out various things of interest to Barney, who gives a disinterested "okay" and doesn't move. She mimes that she sees no sharks, does he? A snatch of laws music sounds as she mimes a shark's fin. It cuts out as he bats her question away. After a moment, they both remove their regulators and speak conspiralorially to the fishes.

PIPPA: He can't stand it/

BARNEY: /She can't stand it, not being able to yak. Practically hyperventilated trying to cram twenty minutes worth of yak into the last ten seconds before that moronic diving instructor inserted her regulator. You should have heard her: "Ooh, Thabo. It's ever so big. I don't know if I can take it." I wanted to say: "Just shove it in Thabo, she could fit the entire air tank in that trap of hers,' but then I imagine he's already well apprised of her oral capacity.

PIPPA: God knows why he agreed to do the dive all of a sudden. Normally he throws up just whiffing a fishmongers and now he's come over all lacques frigging Cousteau. I heard him telling the luscious Thabo: "It's my natural element. I was a waterbirth, you know," neglecting to mention that he hasn't put his swellhead underwater since. I have to wash his hair in the salon so his face doesn't get wet. Or maybe he's scared that if I did him in the bath at home, alone, I'd shove him under and shut him up for good. Maybe he's right.

BARNEY: Twenty minutes of enforced silence. It must be some kind of record, if she lasts that long. She even yaks in her sleep. Oh, she protests, at some length, that she doesn't, but I hear her. Oh I hear her alright. I know what goes on in her sordid little head every night in bed. But it's not that that drives me mad. It's not even the yakking.

PIPPA: Can you hear me, little fishes? Do you all have live-second memories or is that just the goldfish? Well, it's five seconds more attention than I normally get. And it makes you the perfect witnesses, doesn't it? "Witnesses to what?" you're wondering, bless you.

BARNEY: She doesn't listen. I know all too well what's going on in her head, hut she doesn't have a clue what's going on in mine. It doesn't cross her tiny mind for a moment why I, an avowed aquaphobic, might agree to a shark dive in the Indian Ocean, might be


Replacing their regulators, they mime innocently to each other, asking ahonl the sharks again with another sniilch of music. Pippa lakes her mouthpiece out.

PIPPA: We were guaranteed sharks. And even if they don't show, Barney's not the best swimmer in the world. If something happens and his regulator comes out, god knows I won't help him.

BARNEY: Some twenty people were attacked by sharks in this stretch of water last year. And if probability lets me down, Pippa's still guaranteed to yak. If her regulator falls out, god knows I won't help her.

PIPPA: It'll be a fitting ending. Wc met on a blind date at the aquarium in Blackpool Zoo. One of my clients from the salon set it up, one of Hartley's students. She reckoned we were made for each other.

The space becomes a tunnel through a fish tank. Barney still cowers at the side, nauseous.

BARNEY: Sorry, Philippa. I don't know what Yolanda was thinking of, suggesting that we meet here. …

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