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January 21, 2010 | by  | in Arts Theatre | [ssba]

Love Animal


Felix (Jacob Faauga-Renwick) runs an art gallery and all is not well. Luckily, his employee Sue (Josephine O’Sullivan) proposes a charity auction. It’s a smash and saves the gallery. Somehow. Drunk on both success and alcohol they fall into bed together. Which is a problem. Sue is married to Edward (Vere Hampson-Tindale) and is now stuck between the need for honesty and some not wanting to spoil their marriage. Then she finds out she is pregnant and not sure who the father is. Things then get a lot more complex from there.

Faauga-Renwick and Hampson-Tindale are not only performers in Love Animal, but the writers too. So, it feels rather mean of me to report that the two real weaknesses of the show lie in its performances and writing.

I’m really sorry guys. I’m sure you’re great.

The choice to tell parts of the story non-chronologically is daring but adds little to the story. Telling a tale out of order should add a question or gesture to a work, not simply be there to break up a rather monotonous series of events as seems to be the case with Love Animal.

There is a lot of emotion in Love Animal, but very little of it is love. In fact, the most love you get in this play is in the title. The characters are never really allowed to just spend time with each other or themselves. So you never really get to know them, and, more importantly, you never really feel the love between any of them. This makes many events in the story seem oddly unmotivated like a random number plot machine.

The performances suffer from not really having much to work with. Faauga-Renwick’s Felix is so monodimensionally sleazy and sly, that he’s more like your pet python slowly measuring itself against you as you sleep than any human being. If you broke him in half you’d find a sharp intake of breath written right through him. It’s not revealing too much to say that he literally drags his cock across the stage at one point. He also has an odd vocal tick of emphasising seemingly random words when he speaks, as if he didn’t speak English and had learned all his lines phonetically. This often makes it hard to keep track of what he’s saying.

The cast of 'Love Animal' and a drawing of an unborn child.

The cast of 'Love Animal' and a drawing of an unborn child.

Hampson-Tindale’s Edward seems constantly dazzled and oblivious, like a poor sighted mouse in a brightly lit poison cheese factory. Hampson-Tindale spends a lot of the play, searching the deep dark depths of minimalism before emerging with some moments of truly haunting emotionlessness and unreadability. This play should be his story, the path of his downfall, but we just don’t spend enough time with him (and when we do, we just don’t care) for that to work.

Josephine O’Sullivan takes a really fair bash at Sue, but the character is simply there to a) be female, b) be a victim and, c) robotically spew forth exposition. She’s barely a sketch of a character.

Being little more than a mouth spew plot machine is a problem not just limited to Sue, all three characters spend a lot of the play outright stating the events that are occurring and the emotions they are feeling in that particular way that no human being has ever done outside of a re-enacted crime-scene report.There are also more than a few niggling plot holes. How would a fundraiser for charity help the business who held it? What’s up the kids eyes?

It seems to me that the script for Love Animal is a very workable first draft. What it really needs is a few fresh pairs of eyes, a harsh script editor or dramaturge and a good few weeks in a workshop. It needs to be totally picked apart and then put back together.

Jack O’Donnell’s direction is assured and lucid. He brings a real velocity to what could have been a quite grey and ponderous trudge of a play. He only falters when he makes somewhat misjudged stabs at the cinematic, which tend to read as more as clumsy than anything else. He could also afford to smooth over his transitions as they can jar the flow of the piece occasionally.

Kirawat “Pope” Sahasewiyon’s lighting is evocative and effective, if occasionally gaudy. Domenica Valencia Mandujano’s set is a nice slight abstraction of a living room that could have been used more. Marika Pratley’s synthesised score is duly unsettling, even though it does sound like some of it was cribbed from the haunted Weather Channel.

At the best of times Love Animal is a Greek tragedy writ small, but, sadly, most of the time it’s a YouTube Poop style self-parodic seizure through the bland mists of melodrama. There is potential within this work, it’ll just be hard work to uncover.

The overall feeling of Love Animal is a bunch of people taking a bit of a wild wack at doing something they love. They just happened to miss. That’s sad. There is a real energy in these people and they really should keep swinging. Because, sooner or later, they’ll hit.

Next time, guys. Next time.

Love Animal
Written by Jacob Faauna-Renwick and Vere Hampson-Tindale
Directed by Jack O’Donnell
With Josephine O’Sullivan, Jacob Faauna-Renwick and Vere Hampson-Tindale

At BATS theatre, booking details here.
6.30pm, 19 -30 Jan 2010


About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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