Review: Human Animals, Royal Court

“I’m taking my cat’s Prozac”

The pigeons are revolting, the foxes are running riot, those damn cockroaches just won’t die – so far so realistic in Stef Smith’s debut play for the Royal Court. But Human Animals take its thesis three steps further to a place where animal nature has become dangerously unpredictable and taken human nature along with it. And as environmental crisis threatens to turn into ecological apocalypse, it becomes increasingly difficult to see where the real problem lies.

Smith explores this world through the interconnected lives of six characters, their interactions played out in a series of duologues that sees them all spiral out differently but still downwardly. Ashley Zhangazha’s Jamie tries to find meaning in eco-activism, giving the cause a hand; Lisa McGrillis’ Lisa, his partner, finds economic advancement but at personal cost; Sargon Yelda’s bureaucrat Si seems more interested in flirting with men in bars (like Ian Gelder’s suave John) than making his blithe assurances that all is OK seem truly convincing.

And so on and so on forth, Hamish Pirie’s taut direction starts off with meaning and menace, as confusion grips the population and paranoia proves well-founded with heavy-handed authoritarian responses abandoning this community. The mother/daughter duo of Stella Gonet’s Nancy and Natalie Dew’s Alex prove most effective here as the latter’s idealism comes up hard against the former’s gin-soaked cynicism, the relationship between personal and public responsibility coming to the fore.

As the play progresses, things get messy: literally in some regards, as Camilla Clarke’s insectarium-like set gets splattered by paintguns and falling detritus and increasing numbers of bugs in cases; but also dramatically, as a surfeit of topics are introduced without sufficient exploration, and Smith’s liking for choral cacophony is indulged too often without substantive effect. And though there’s a deal of sharp humour, there’s also a measure of po-facedness that might possibly inspire the wrong kind of giggles if you’re not quite fully invested in the play…

Much potential here and with a cast of this calibre, there’s frequent joy in the watching of the mis-steps society can all too easily make when confronted with an unexpected influx and how easily manipulated we are by vested corporate interests. But there’s inconsistency too as the play attempts too much in too short a space of time, headbutting the window like those pigeons.

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Helen Maybanks

Booking until 18th June

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