Stuart King

Review: ANIMAL at Park Theatre

ANIMAL currently enjoying a short run at Park Theatre, received considerable critical praise on its opening in Manchester earlier this year and it’s not difficult to understand why. The creative team behind the story of a young disabled gay guy who is dependent upon his three carers (Matt Ayleigh, Amy Loughton and Harry Singh) but is desperate for a sex life (preferably with some dating involved), have created a big hearted, funny and informed piece of theatre.

Animal - Park TheatreAnimal at Park Theatre - Photography by Piers Foley

After repeated rebuffs and rejections at the sight of his wheelchair and the physical manifestation of his cerebral palsy, David (Christopher John-Slater) finally takes to hook-up apps and begins stumbling his way through a succession of online exchanges — occasionally resulting in pervy, real-life encounters with older Daddy figures (played by William Oxborrow). One-off meets eventually bring him into contact with an Adonis Liam (Joshua Liburd) who it transpires, carries his own emotional and mental issues including body dysmorphia, but there appears to be a genuine if tentative connection between the two. When a second rendezvous doesn’t materialise and David puts himself at risk by embarking on a train journey alone, there is a reckoning.

Crammed full of witty observation and razor sharp humour, the piece by Jon Bradfield and Josh Hepple is directed by Bronagh Lagan who manages to extract from his talented troupe every ounce of comedy from both the specific situational circumstances and commonplace challenges faced by both the central character and those who move in his orbit. The simple screened staging is enhanced by projections — and although this device is by no means original, it serves the narrative when relaying mobile app exchanges on Gregor Donnelly’s effective set.

Watching a universally talented cast play meaningful subject matter in an understated manner (even when the urge to overplay caricatures simply for laughs must have been immense), was a sheer delight. The dialogue genuinely flowed as a result of the actors’ talented delivery of the material and this small play punches way above its weight as a result.