Writer: Billy Barrett, Ellice Stevens, Joe Boylan, Craig Hamilton, Victoria Watson
Director: Billy Barrett and Ellice Stevens
Reviewer: Andrea Allen
It’s 1965. High-school drop-out Margaret Lovatt journeys across her Caribbean Island hometown and talks her way into a job at a cutting-edge animal research lab. Fast forward a bit and she’s living in a fully-waterproofed house with Peter the dolphin attempting to teach him English. If you’d read this on your Facebook sidebar any number of ‘fake news’ alarms would be going off. The fact that it’s true and was part of NASA-funded research into human-animal communication may, therefore, come as a bit of a shock. There’s a fair chance that you may start to think that you’ve ingested some of the LSD meant for the dolphins.
Commissioned and developed by Battersea Arts Centre, Breach Theatre’s Tank is an unsettling, thought-provoking insight into a Space Race era project mired by controversy to this day. Verbatim dialogue from surviving recordings of Lovatt’s lessons is fused with Breach Theatre’s stripped back, deadpan style in an attempt to fill in the gaps and tell the full story.
The subject matter is on point. In an era clouded by debate over climate change and our carbon footprint the ethics of animal testing in science and challenging of man’s superiority over nature couldn’t be more relevant. By framing it in humour and satire the grim reality of animal mistreatment feels easier to observe yet simultaneously becomes far more unsettling. The sparse set overflowing with recording-reel is tightly framed in a square of white tape, giving the apt impression of a boxing ring rather than a marine tank. While the fight is seemingly for progress, the question is at what cost does this come.
The projected backdrop is dampeningly flat and the script needs sharpening, but this deeply disturbing, psychedelically disorientating discussion of murky ethics and the pursuit of scientific progress is a pertinent, unsettling tale that needs to continue to be retold.
Runs until 6th May | Image: The Other Richard