1 May 2015

Animals at Theatre503 was very funny, very dark and very wonderful

Theatre503 had become one of my very favourite theatres simply by presenting a series of unusual, challenging and entertaining plays. Animals was another one of these.

From it's description, it was firmly in the Dark Comedy category and so it already appealed to me and it proved to be more than that.

The logistics were boringly simple this time. I arranged to work in the London office that day and then made my way to Battersea. It was a little too far to walk all the way so I started off on public transport but left that when a couple of kilometres away to walk the last part.

Theatre503 was above a pub, the Latchmere, and I went there fist for something to eat and a beer. Like most gastro pubs they were a little light on the vegetarian options but I only needed one decent choice to be happy, and they had one. The picture I took (I am not always that sad) showed asparagus, egg and shaved Parmesan. A welcome change from the days of veggie lasagna as the only veggie choice.

Meal over I helped myself to a second pint and made my way up the steep and twisting stairs to the theatre to collect my ticket and to wait in comfort of the theatre doors to open. It is a cosy reception area and is one of the many nice things about Theatre503.

Once inside and in my favoured front-row position the view was much less cosy as I faced a wall of distressed and unloved steel.

Animals was set in a derelict housing estate in a dystopian future. Three of the estate's kingpins of the shadow economy were three old ladies who, we learned, had officially gone past their sell-by date. The avoided termination by hiding away and using false papers and they served their local community through sexual favours and their part in the distribution of food.

It was a strange and nasty world made the stranger and the nastier by these ladies' role in it. They had adapted well to the harsh circumstances but the State still posed a real threat to them.

This threat became more real when an Inspector turned up to check the people living in the block. He was both an executioner and a victim, working on a zero-hours contract and needing to get result to be paid. These results included terminating people living beyond their contracted time, that time being set by their social usefulness.

The Inspector had his daughter with him. She was approaching eighteen when her social usefulness would be first judged and until then was forced to live as a child. She was both curious and naive. She was also in great danger.

That rich setting let the play spread its tentacles in all directions from hard politics to protocols around who sits in the armchair, from what it means to be useful in society to what gloves to wear when giving hand-jobs.

The initial setting was both dark and funny and I would have been quiet happy if it had continued in that vein so I was absolutely thrilled when it got funnier and much darker. The darkest secret was well hidden, despite being in plain view at the very start, and was gradually revealed through comments and implications. As a plot structure it worked brilliantly, as did all the other things going on in the play.

It was good to see the three main roles going to older women and they were all marvellous at being the granny you always loved as well as prominent crime-lords. The inspector gave a convincing portrayal of a man trapped by the rules that he did not question and his daughter was the delightful little-girl-lost (physically and intellectually).

Animals was a great deal of fun and made some interesting and provocative comments about politics and society too. I could watch plays like this forever and it looks as though Theatre503 can keep producing them too.

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