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August 11, 2008 | by  | in Theatre |
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Mammals

Written by Amelia Bullmore
Directed by. Susan Wilson
At Circa
2 – 30 August

Mammals is actress-turned-writer Amelia Bullmore’s first play. A comedy/drama set in London’s stifled suburbia, a land of angst, heartbreak and juice boxes that the play wonderfully termed ‘wheelie bin land’. To be wary of the dreaded spoiler (a full third of the joy of the play is the surprise of the very act that gets the plot moving) one really must discuss Mammals’ story in velvet vagaries – it is a story of honesty and what a mistake it can be, of the casual cruelty that inhabits all our interactions, of the hopeless intangibility of any kind of connection between people, and, most importantly and most obviously, about childhood and how the modern world in many ways seems geared towards not letting us escape it. Mammals as a narrative plays a funny game, often daring you to assume that it has melted down to little more than a hateful, empty-calorie melodrama about people who had their midlife crises at 29 and have learned to treasure them, and then smacking you in the head with very well earned moments of proper emotion and meaning, which saves it rather quickly from just being unbearable. It also properly challenges you as an audience member, not giving you easy guidelines as to whose side you should be on, and giving you the ending you need and not the one you want.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Mel Dodge glows as the stressed coiled spring of the housewife and mother Jane, showing us just enough cracks in the character’s shell for us to care but not too many to make one feel forced to pity her. Gavin Rutherford is amazing as absentee husband/father Kev, basically because he’s Gavin Rutherford and if he ever gave even an average performance the universe would collapse. Jason Whyte shows the world his Robert Carlyle as Phil, Kev’s best friend who seems to have forgotten that life changes after university. Lorna, Phil’s current girlfriend, played admirably by Jessica Robinson, seems sunk between shallowness and self-pity. The casting decisions that will clearly warrant the most discussion is of Michele Amas and Jane Waddell as Betty and Jess, Kev and Jane’s four and six year old daughters. The script asks for these two roles to be played by adults, but there are two interesting dimensions to director Susan Wilson’s choice of these actresses. First, and less important, is one of age. The actresses are easily the two eldest actors in the cast, creating a nice little dig whistle idea that they are in fact the only truly wise ones here, and the wellworn idea that the blind honesty of childhood may save us or damn us all gets trotted out once or twice. The second and more surreal one is that both actress are noticeably taller than their mother, the character with whom they share the most stage time. This creates a surreal sense of distorted, distended and disturbed scale within the otherwise sane set, which is rather disconcerting and never really lets up; it becomes quite distracting at least for this reviewer. But that aside, Amas and Waddell excel, discovering some magic line between the hilarious and the true in these characters who so easily could have just become two little wacky comedy characters breaking up the adult time and not the key dramatic parts they are.

Susan Wilson’s direction is good and serves the text well. John Hodgkin’s set is a nice, if a bit too dusty pastel, canvas for the children’s literal mess and the adults’ emotional mess, feeling very lived in and alive. Jennifer Lal’s lights are, as usual, so genius you barely notice them. And Gillie Coxill’s costumes tell us all we need to know about the characters with out ever stopping being clothes.

The only conclusion that can be reached is see it. If you can afford it. It won’t break your heart. It won’t change your life. It is just really good. And sometimes that’s enough. Right?

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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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