Bondi Pavilion Theatre, Bondi Beach
Season: 29 April – 16 May
Photo credit: Zak Kaczmarek
Most people would like to think that in crises or emergency they would respond heroically, performing noble deeds that reveal their true benevolent nature. Brooke Robinson’s Animal/People throws this idealistic assumption into frenzy, as two confessional characters, Man and Woman, divulge their incapacity or aversion to responding to compromising situations in a ‘morally acceptable’ manner. Directed by James Dalton, Animal/People repudiates the limits of social acceptability to propose an unsettling reality about who we really are.
Initially, Man and Woman seem like good, normal parents – the type of people you could likely identify in your own life. Anecdotes about children, work, and the banal in life ensue. Yet during the Man’s routine jog one morning, he comes across an entirely helpless victim of a dog attack…and abandons her. Succumbing to his own helplessness in the situation, he performs this unthinkable act. Meanwhile, the audience learns of the Woman’s festering resentment for her wheelchair-bound son who seems to take odious pleasure in other people’s pain.
Man, played by Martin Crewes, and Woman, played by Georgia Adamson, complement each other exquisitely on stage, as they concomitantly tease out the complexities knotted within the figures through a string of monologues. A compelling focus pervades both of their performances, drawing the audience into the vacuum of their characters’ shame-ridden consciences.
The piece commenced with Crewes’ monologue shrouded by darkness, his voice demanding your attention from the get-go. Light slowly revealed his facial features and allowed his expressions to engage the audience. This was astutely manipulated by the artists to add gradual layers to the performance, which in turn, created depth in the character and understanding of his situation. Perhaps this could represent our blindness in the dark as we embrace the idealised qualities of humanity, only able to see the truth when glaring fluorescent lights are used to illuminate every blemish on our character. This notion was extended in the pairing of the set and lighting design throughout the work, juxtaposing light and shade, impairing and then rectifying the audience’s vision. Through this contrast, the entirety of the set design was gradually revealed, unveiling a stage shaped by sharp vector lines magnifying a shattered bone-like backdrop. Fluorescent lights were hung haphazardly from the ceiling, flooding the space with light when switched on, creating a sterile hospital atmosphere, sanitising and eliminating idealistic misconceptions.
Through the play’s themes, both Adamson and Crewes pertinently express resentment of a disconcerting situation and a simultaneous sense of guilt in their character’s respective circumstances. The subsequent overcompensation for one’s own inadequacies that can follow in this situation was a fascinating reaction illustrated by both performers. A technique that augmented connection to corrupt characters was Robinson’s clever incorporation of ‘everyday’ figures, subverting audience assumptions and increasing connection to characters that perform abominable deeds.
In spite of the terrific energy throughout the play, I found the final scenes lost impetus, stunting the swift pace, and resulting in an anticlimax. This was a disappointing finish to what was otherwise a highly intriguing and dynamic piece, and may have been due to limited rehearsal of the final scenes in comparison to the remainder of the work.
Animal/People will challenge any idealistic over-the-rainbow notions you may have about human character, as well as mundane preconceptions you may have about the people around you… Are people truly more civil and morally upright than animals? Prepare to work hard and engage in the theatrical space as an audience member, partaking in the vital process of self-reflection as people. When we strip back socially imposed niceties and pretense to the bone, are we animal at our core?