Behind the scenes at the zoo

<i>Keepers</i> | Hampstead Theatre, London
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The Independent Culture

That room full of chimpanzees typing away may not yet have come up with Shakespeare's Hamlet, but chances are that they've got to Keepers by now, and that a chimp of taste has binned it.

That room full of chimpanzees typing away may not yet have come up with Shakespeare's Hamlet, but chances are that they've got to Keepers by now, and that a chimp of taste has binned it.

Michele Winstanley's first play, Keepers is set in and near the chimp house of a zoo that is so down at heel it could keep every Mister Minit branch in the country busy for weeks. The place is set to close unless Mr Mohamed, visiting that particular evening, comes up with a quarter of a million pounds.

This doesn't seem too likely, given what we see of Head Keeper Derek, a flatulent bully, and his staff, who seem to have been recruited by someone who went down to the Job Centre with a banana. There is also an ominous portent in Derek's remark "There is one way you would not want to die", followed by his description of a mob attack by chimpanzees. After that, of course, it's not a question of whether but simply when and who.

Will the victim of primates' inhumanity to primates be the vivacious Roxane (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), whose favourite topics are "pubes" and willies and, for the sake of variety, enthusiasm for her job ("I know how to work my labia off")? Or will it be Chick (Keir Charles), whose lines have such promising beginnings as "What I like about beans..."? The favoured candidate for early dismemberment might well be Oona (Sukie Smith), who squeaks, tilts her head to one side, shakes herself like a dog, and then buries her face in her hands - not once, but many times.

On mature consideration, however, the moving finger has to point at Maggie (Lucy Briers), the terribly nice, well-bred girl who talks to the chimps as if they were children and cheers up a colleague with "There's nothing wrong with being single!".

As the tour youngsters chat about willies, play simple word games, push brooms about, and make tea, it becomes clear that the problem is really how to kill time until the chimps raise hell.

Winstanley even resorts to a flirtation scene between the goofy Oona and Chick, in which the two key lines, repeated ad infinitum, are "I don't!" and "You do!".

The strongest presence in Julie-Ann Robinson's production of Keepers was the offstage chimpanzee who throws dung at the zoo staff every time they approach. Not only do these creatures have a reputation as frustrated authors: one of them, it seems, is a critic.

To 18 Nov (020-7722 9301)

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