Writers: Dot Howard and Holly Bodmer
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Britons are a nation of animal lovers; everything about the creatures we welcome into our homes fascinates us. They are an emotional comfort, a source of happiness and often become an essential member of the family. My Champion Heartache by Odd Comic Theatre Company combines a series of sketches about different types of pets with audio interviews with owners, describing itself as a ‘live art performance’.
From the moment that the two actresses emerge from under a pile of furry blankets and start talking nonsense, it’s clear this is going to be a long evening. Making a series of squeaky noises and wearing woollen animal hats, they start saying their favourite things, which soon turns into the names of famous people – why, who knows? From here they use the blankets to transform into a pseudo-pantomime horse and dance around the stage, before dispensing with that to make those enticing squeaky / kissy noises at the audience as if attracting animals.
There’s no plot here and even if this is meant to be symbolic piece, it actually has nothing whatsoever to say. A series of animals is presented including fish, dogs, cats and a tortoise but without making any discernable comment about why people love pets or the consequences for the animal. Watching two grown-ups fighting with cuddly toys pretending to savage them is embarrassing and a scene in which endless bags of dog mess are dropped around the stage before being flicked into the audience is utterly pointless implying the pets are just an annoyance.
The audio interviews with elderly people talking about the love for their animals is a nice touch but the interviewers don’t seem remotely interested in what’s being said and these snippets, rather than celebrating these meaningful relationships, seems to mock the people speaking – especially as laughter ensues after one lady describes having a stroke, hitting her head and worrying about her goldfish. The visuals associated with the sound don’t mean much either, with someone running around the stage in jogging gear while a man describes his dog or a long spotlight on a tortoise before any sound is heard.
It’s not clear what the point of My Champion Heartache is or who it’s aimed at. Even with the most surreal or absurdist humour there is a political or social point to be made, and a series of skits have to be connected by something more meaningful or it’s just drivel. This is a very long 50 minutes with almost no redeeming features, particularly when you start to think the British theatre is often the envy of the world with brilliant playwrights and actors working with edgy and risk-taking directors combining mainstream with a vibrant fringe – yet here two girls blow some fur around. This has the potential to be so much more than it is and, for anyone who’s loved a pet, this is far from best in show.
Runs until 5 March 2016 | Image: Contributed