DramaLondonReviewVAULT Festival

Zoo – VAULT Festival, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

 Writer: Lily Bevan

Directors: Hamish MacDougall and Lily Bevan

An unlikely story about the unlikely relationship between two women who live on different continents proves to be one of the hits of the VAULT Festival so far. Engaging, tragic and yet ultimately hopeful, Lily Bevan’s Zoo is a thoughtful exploration of friendship.

Bonnie, played by Lily Bevan herself, is a zookeeper in Florida preparing for a hurricane. She’s bringing the small animals into a building she calls the club-house. She hopes they will be safe there: the larger animals will have to fend for themselves but their enclosures should hold them. With flamingos in the men’s bathroom, and with her Arthur, her trusty anteater friend, Bonnie refuses a ride to safety and decides that she will remain with her animals.

Meanwhile back in Yorkshire, Carol (played by Lorna Beckett) in her role as member of the Bat Society has brought in a bat to a group of schoolchildren. People skills aren’t Carol’s strength, and soon the bat that the kids have named Ariana Grande, escapes and then dies in front of them

At first, these stories seem unconnected but we backtrack and we see them meeting for the first time at a zoology conference. They are in the queue for the canteen, and Bonnie needs some guidance to what Shepherd’s Pie actually is. Carol is her usual abrasive self, but this doesn’t bother Bonnie at all, and soon the two strike up a friendship that survives when Bonnie returns to the States.

Bevan’s Bonnie is bright and effervescent, and even though she gives her some stereotypical American traits, Bevan is not here to mock her character. She is optimistic, friendly and loving, and there is real emotion in her performance as the hurricane sweeps in, threatening to destroy her Noah’s ark.

Likewise, Beckett gives Carol real depth and we can see past her awkwardness and observe instead her helplessness and fear of intimacy. When Bonnie gives her a present, we can see clearly in Beckett’s performance how unaccustomed Carol is to kindness. It’s a wonderful scene, played at the entrance to the killer whale enclosure, where the animals die of loneliness.

There are two very different stories in Zoo, and they only brush against each other occasionally, but it is within these glancing blows that the drama, moving and redemptive in so many ways, is found. Based loosely on a real story, Bevan’s play is surprising in its scope, and links the lives of two brave women with ease.

And in the Cavern, the VAULT Festival’s most atmospheric venue, the hurricane created by sound designer Mike Winship and light designer Tom Clutterback feels real. For 70 minutes this tale of sacrifice and empowerment feels real too. Zoo’s emotions rub against you and whether you take some of them away with you or whether you leave something of yours behind, you’ll be changed by this quietly powerful play.

Runs until 1 March 2020

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