Even Tessa Coates has no idea what anthropology is about and she studied it for three years. But it has informed her latest show Primates – a startling reminder that we are not that different from our nearest genetic species. It’s an affable mix of physiology, psychology and comedy in an attempt to explain away our seemingly insane actions in relationships, mating and a fascination with procreation before it’s too late.
You can tell that this is Coates’ debut solo show – she takes time to warm up and appears inexperienced. There are points that lack confidence in the delivery and she seems a bit at sea when things don’t quite go to plan. Thinking on your feet comes more naturally with practice and Coates takes a few seconds longer than expected to regain her position and structure if anyone goes off piste. But she can laugh at her inherent middle-class nature, is suitably self-deprecating to endear herself to us and is the first to take the piss out of her plum in mouth style voice. We buy it straightaway.
There is a deceptively organised scattiness to Coates’ performance. Subjects that initially seem haphazardly thrown together are in fact linked in clever ways that become apparent as the story develops. Coates covers the typical millennial subjects of dating and love, but the anthropological angle is a novel take on things – it provides education as well as laughs. Combined with Coates exceptionally prudish nature and inability to say vagina or penis without grimacing, the whole set takes a hilariously long time to progress but is never awkward or uncomfortable.
Coates’ main material comes from the theories that she unsuccessfully tries to apply when on Tinder – the no sleeping on a first date is overridden by the body’s natural urges; the ever more desperate affirmation that he’ll definitely text back simply isn’t scientifically logical. Finally there is a reason for the shag and go – the man is evolutionally pre-destined to spread his seed as far and wide as possible to increase passing on the legacy. The woman by contrast wants to nest and secure the man so he can provide shelter and security for the upcoming child. It may be clearer but that doesn’t make it any less infuriating, something all the singletons in the audience vehemently agree with.
Primates overextends its conclusion – the metaphor for the passing of time as a Facebook party event is well considered and wraps up the set succinctly. Coates’ inexperience shows in her nervousness to finalise and conclude the show, opting instead for one more gag that may glean the biggest laugh of the show. It’s a sound theory, but one that further experimentation will improve upon.
Primates plays Pleasance Courtyard as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 26 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.