Animal

"Animal is a raw, emotional and educational piece of theatre "

A joint production between Park Theatre and Hope Mill Theatre, Animal is written by Jon Bradfield, based on a story by Josh Hepple.  Animal tells the story of David (Christopher John-Slater), an openly gay young man with cerebral palsy.

David is 25 and profoundly horny. Inexperienced in the world of dating, relationships and sexual adventures he embarks on a journey of self-discovery through the power of online dating. Aided by his friends and carers he is encouraged to download the notorious gay dating app Grindr. What ensues is powerful, emotional and thought provoking.

The plot is inspired from Josh Hepples’ own perspective of having cerebral palsy which makes this piece authentic. Director Bronagh Lagan is championing a community that are severely underrepresented in society and especially in theatre. There are many themes that the piece explores for the audience to consider in regards to disability and emotions regarding sexual experiences. David at many points in the play appears vulnerable despite having a good support network around him by people who clearly care and want the best for him. He relies on friends and support workers for all aspects of care which in turn frustrates him. 

Christopher plays the part of David with such conviction, with emphasis on David as an individual as opposed to focusing on his disability. The frustrations of the character at times is harrowing if hard to watch especially when attempting to gain further independence. The comedy within the play is an extension of the characters and the tone of which is exactly on point. Comedic one liners from David’s carer Derek (Matt Ayleigh) have the audience laughing out loud and is a pleasant way of taking the audience away from distressing moments. William Oxborrow has a particular difficult task in portraying several different men during separate hook ups at different points in the play. Each character is distinctive in their own right and recognisable from the real life gay dating scene, conforming to gay social and sexual stereotypes. 

Each character within the play is integral to the story. Amy Loughton’s characterisation as David’s best friend Jill is a particular highlight. Initially relatable to David as both have similar problems with relationships. As the play develops it explores the strain on friendships that certain types of intimate relationships can bring. Jill’s character arc from the start of the play to the end is significant and required due to repercussions of actions by other characters. Harry Singh as Mani is the camp, caring best friend we all need and is instantly adored. Harry also plays Jill’s love interest Michael showing the diversity of his abilities as an actor as the portrayal couldn’t have been any further apart. Joshua Liburd plays the complex character of Liam, David’s on/off hook up. Joshua’s character touches on further themes of commitment issues, self-acceptance and body dysmorphia. Although the lack of full exploration of these leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions and confusion in the plot. Further exploration of this character would enable the audience to understand better the cold vibe that Liam often gives off to David.

Set designer, Gregor Donnelly, has designed different simple settings within David’s flat in which the majority of the play takes place in. The small, intimate setting of Hope Mill was perfect for this as this makes the audience feel like they are part of the action inside the flat. We visit David’s lounge and bedroom where the majority of the action takes place, both distinctively recognisable by the versatility of props re purposed in their new setting. Video projection’s (Matt Powell) of conversations on the dating app, whilst scene changes were carried out quickly, were imitated to great effect using many stereotypical terms found on these sites. Audio recordings of the text on screen, recorded by the actors prior to the performance, are a lovely addition and ensure that the piece is accessible to all.

Animal is a raw, emotional and educational piece of theatre. This piece is a celebration of diversity and inclusion within the cast and context of the play whilst also exploring truthful and complex storytelling. Animal highlights that whilst we are all different we are more alike than may be first visible. All of us are complex individuals with needs and wants regardless of disability or any other perceived characteristics. This is a play that is very much needed and relevant to society today. 

This show was reviewed on the 21st March 2023.  Animal runs at the Hope Mill Theatre until the 2nd April 2023.  Tickets are available here: Animal – Hope Mill Theatre

Review written by Jordan Potts

Photo credit: Piers Foley

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