Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Animals at Theatre503
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Animals at Theatre503
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Animals at Theatre503
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18 Apr REVIEW: Animals at Theatre503

In an age of green screens and CGI, visions of dystopian futures are ten a penny, blurred into one worrying mess of segregation, killings and protagonists rising up against the systems that oppress them. A saturated movie market, this fascination is beginning to break onto stage, with shows like The Nether and Urinetown, and now with Animals, exploring ways of creating their very different worlds on stage, each based on wildly different ideas and philosophies, but all held in place by a set of seemingly non-negotiable linchpins.

In Emma Adams’ vision of “the future”, society judges its’ members’ value based not on their intentions, their passions, or their level of commitment, but on their “utility,” or net worth, on what they contribute, and what they consume. The young and agile are awarded green permits, but as health and ability deteriorate, you can all too easily slide down the slippery slope towards a red permit – the trigger for the enforcers to pay a visit. But of course, capitalism is still the name of the game, so even when the enforcers do arrive, you can choose to upgrade your execution for a small fee – perhaps a religious reading or a shot of anaesthetic?

It’s a system that leads to extraordinary resourcefulness, as a trio of older women hoard black-market arthritis medication, and use dubious methods to prepare ham sandwiches for the local Sandwich Circle, and as fraudsters on the estate make a killing from selling convincing-looking amber permits. Shielded from the brutal realities of life in 2046, anyone under the age of 18 is infantilised, and made to believe that Disney provides factual accounts of real events as they go about diligently collecting happy memories and squealing about balloons.

Despite being perfectly sinister, it’s a vision with more holes than a colander. Given that even right now medical records are being digitised, taxes are collected online, and we register to vote over the internet, it makes no sense that an enforcer would be calling door-to-door with a clipboard and a list of names, carrying out manual permit checks; even road tax no longer requires actually checking a tax disc. Similarly it just makes no sense that Norma’s home looks a lot like a rather old fashioned present day home, with no intimation of the time that has presumably passed. And if there is a good explanation for why the women are cannibalising children, it certainly isn’t expressed clearly enough.

Although Animals presents an incomplete and rather crumbly dystopia, perhaps most striking are the alarming similarities between our observable world and this grim vision of the future, from the children wrapped – no, dressed in bubble wrap, to a suspicious disdain for “incomers,” and all the way through to the zero-hours enforcer who does “what I have to” and refuses responsibility on the basis that “I’m just following orders.” On the note of similarities to contemporary attitudes, the play centres around the value and role of older people in society, with one character even going so far as to comment, “is it so bloody ridiculous to think that an old person might actually be intelligent?”

The relevance of this question rings in the audience’s ears, not only for how pertinent it is, but for how at odds it is with the way the women are depicted. Despite the fact that Animals supposedly satirises the imposition of a “use by” date on people, we’re given an incredibly stereotypical view of older people, armed with their crosswords, tea and ham sandwiches, and asked to laugh at the preposterousness of older ladies cutting speed with their library cards; the humour seems totally misplaced, and whilst seemingly trying to advocate for older women’s value, the humour stems from mocking and diminishing them.

Just like the exploration of the key theme, the styling of the set (Max Dorey) totally misses the mark, despite exhibiting phenomenal spatial planning, creating three entirely separate spaces on what has to be one of London’s tiniest stages. The soundtrack (Timon Wapenaar) is presumably pulled from a Nintendo 64, and harks back to a very old fashioned view of the future, along with some incredibly dated projections – even by todays standards – that are just utterly out of place.

Animals is an ambitious project, with some interesting ideas and some excellent intentions. It needs a brutal edit, a rethink of some of the presentation, and the opportunity to play with and solidify the ideologies tied up within it. But it could, just, turn into a vivid and chilling production.

For tickets and information:

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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