The Humanzee
Le Festival d’Avignon

Reviewer's rating

The “Off” Festival in Avignon is a place where you can find little plays from all around the world offering unique attempts to create something new. I got into “The Humanzee” because the actors were promoting their play in the main street of Avignon city, trying to catch passers-by and potential audiences members. In the small but cosy Laurette Theatre, a good fifteen people are attending the play. The actors welcome them in white scientist outfits. What is all about ? The mystery is kept from the audience…until all of them are asked to join the ‘scientists’ on stage.

The Humanzee is an interactive play that will ask the audience to perform various tasks. From simple choices to more complex questions asked, you’re not only a witness of what is going on and what has been written or rehearsed by the actors. The audience is more or less the main actor – or “subject” – of this “experiment”. The result is a mix between a game and a psychological test with four parts and four different challenges that you have to overcome in order to be the only remaining human on stage.

After being given stickers with random numbers, the first part lets you answer “yes” or “no” to a lots of questions. The dozen people who chose to go on stage are now divided given their answers. “Are you a boy ?” “Are you single ?” “Do you have any sexual fantasy?” “Should you deserve to remain on Earth if half the of humans died ?”…the questions cover a large spectrum of themes. Are the people on stage being honest ? Do they go where the majority is? The ‘scientist’ who asks the questions is unsettling the audience individually by asking them for details, examples and explanations of their choices.

Even the more shy participants are getting into the game. For the second part of the play, only 10 people and two groups of people remain on stage. With a banana in their hands, they are asked to stare at a member of the other team. The bodies of these two strangers are close and even though it is an awkward situation they often laugh when trying to stare at each other. The “experiment” is repeated a few times and you are then asked to whisper a secret to your new friend. How can you share a secret with a stranger you met only 20 minutes ago? It creates more and more awkward situations. Once again, the play was giving us a chance to socialize and at the same time created boundaries between people.

That’s why at the next step we were asked, in a half-circle, to give a banana to the person we felt “the more connected to”.. After this stage only four subjects, two couples, remained. With one person blindfolded and searching and the other giving directions, their goal was to find a banana placed randomly on stage. For the last part, the two remaining individuals were comfortably seated and a new game made them answer questions or perform actions. The play remained connected to the audience who remained observers : some questions could be asked of them too. The audience had the power to choose the winner given what they observed during the last hour. A vote was cast and the winner given a little prize.

After the show, young director Wong Chun Ho told us he was inspired by real experiments made by the soviet scientist Ilia Ivanov. The “humanzee” indeed was an attempt to create an hybrid between the human species and the chimpanzee in the 1920s. Indeed what’s the difference between us and that another animal species, given that we have more than 99% of our DNA in common? The play does not give you any answer but rather make you reflect on your experience. Even though it is only an introduction to behavioural and psychological tests in groups, The Humanzee connects people in a short amount of time with an interesting interactive system of questions, games and improvisation.

By putting you at the core of its mise en scène, the absurd, funny and often unsettling play is a refreshing break during the Festival d’Avignon. The Humanzee tries to ask you what is the essence of being human as a social and cultural species. When asked about his future, Director Wong Chun Ho reveals he may adapt his psychological and interactive play to engage people with what’s at stake in Hong Kong right now. We recommend following these young creative people with attention in the coming years.

A summary in French 

L’Humanzee est une pièce interactive et satirique hong kongaise où le public est invité à participer à une expérience scientifique. Avec quatre défis à relever et un seul vainqueur à la fin, les spectateurs se prêtent à un jeu psychologique et social qui les pousse vite à réfléchir jusqu’où ils sont prêts à aller…et quelle est la vraie nature de la condition humaine.