Love Beyond the Zoo – BBC Radio 4 Extra

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Writer: Tom Powell

Ah, love, for some is a dreadful bond – for others, it’s the pinnacle goal of life. It can take many forms, twists, and changes in numerous ways, but have you ever fallen for an animal? As dog lovers, cat connoisseurs, even fish fanatics, we cherish and treat our fur-babies as one of our own. But have you ever truly loved an animal in the more “intimate” sense?

Following his successful win of the Papatango Prize, writer and performer Tom Powell is joined by Stage Awards nominee Saffron Coomber in a peculiar and lavishly incredible adult fairy tale. Love Beyond The Zoo follows an unnamed man’s infatuation with an elephant from the zoo that escaped during a violent stampede. It also features choice appearances from a chimpanzee who doesn’t seem to get the hints about being left alone.

Now, the inventive nature of Powell’s script alone deserves merit, no matter the absurdity of the subject matter. After all, all the best fairy tales exist in reality with a heightened state of believability. The short audio production traverses the pair’s tepid relationship, the ups and downs, – a life with a surprising amount of both implausible and ugly turns.

If at any moment, in listening to Love Beyond The Zoo, listeners interpret the text as a literal romance between a man and a rogue elephant, that’s troubling. Poetic, Powell’s writing possesses a distinct rhythmic quality that conjures striking imagery and condenses the story into a digestible chunk, which, while short, has shortcuts in humour to allow listeners to get to grips with the characters. In moments the nature of the show is touching, tender and does well to maintain levity.

Troubled, confused and unsure, it isn’t only the audience that begins to question the relationship as Powell brings a surprisingly grounded sense of self with the man. Equally, Coomber’s back and forth with Powell makes for the makings of a lengthier production and ripples with the evidence of a fuller in-person show before the pandemic shifted Love Beyond the Zoo’s structure.

Breaking free from the mantra-like repetition of the elephant at his back (but he still can’t seem to shake that damned chimp), this unnamed man seems to find a sense of identity away from his previously caged lover. There’s a lot to unpack within Powell’s piece, but a lot of audiences will still be scratching their heads over the peculiarities of the story despite the fairy-tale angle.

Love Beyond the Zoo can be listened to on BBC Radio 4 Extra on Friday 10 September and then available on BBC Sounds

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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