Writer: Jon Bradfield
Director: Bronagh Lagan
Animal opens at Park Theatre following a stellar run at Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester, with high expectations to live up to. If its riotously well-received London press night is anything to go by, audiences can expect the queer comedy to storm London with equal force.
Written by Jon Bradfield, in collaboration with Josh Hepple who provided the inspiration and concept, Animal is a hilarious and grounded production which puts David, a ‘severely disabled’ gay man, and his sexual desires front and centre. Armed with a characterful friendship group and a variety of eccentric hook-up partners, Animal presents David’s search for connection through social encounters which are as crass as they are revealing, but above all prove to be extremely entertaining.
Christopher John-Slater is a fantastically funny lead, cracking up the audience in even the most tense situations. Bradfield states in the writer’s note that he wanted the protagonist to be neither angel nor victim and this has certainly been accomplished: David is a complex and flawed character. However, with John-Slater at the helm, David is consistently entertaining regardless of his moral compass, and his sarcastic quips and rude sense of humour are always a hit, no matter how inappropriate. Naturally, some of David’s lines do occasionally get lost, but the dialogue is well-constructed so the coherence of a conversation is never at risk. John-Slater’s masterful use of one-liners is also not restricted to the comedic realm either, as he frequently manages to gut-punch with just a few words.
As best friend Jill, Amy Loughton is perhaps John-Slater’s biggest comedic competition. With a huge heart and a warm Welsh accent, Loughton is an absolute delight to watch. She expertly extracts every moment of comedy from the role whilst also creating an endearing and deeply conflicted characterisation of someone trying to find independence beyond a co-dependent friendship.
Harry Singh has a lot of fun switching between the roles of flaky friend Mani and Jill’s boyfriend Michael, who are distinctly presented yet equally eccentric characters. Singh plays the comedy of the character tropes brilliantly; Mani as the bubbly, camp friend and Michael as a zen hipster type, yet also presents them with more depth than a stereotype. William Oxborrow is another to juggle roles and quickly becomes a crowd-favourite, as audiences come to anticipate another ridiculous hook-up whenever he steps onstage.
Animal is quite the visual spectacle, despite the playing space remaining fairly simple. The tiered set blends perfectly with the naturally exposed brickwork of Park Theatre which creates an impressive stage image. Using quick scene transitions, an entire world seems to take place within David’s flat, which is apt for someone who must frequently request that potential hook-ups have to come to him. Extensive projections by Matt Powell, predominantly used to create the digital realm of Grindr, are also a very effective storytelling tool which add to the visual grandeur of the otherwise intimate piece.
Animal is a funny and fresh production stuffed to the brim with talent, heart and laugh-out-loud moments. A ticket for this gem guarantees a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Runs until 20 May 2023