The director had told me that there was only one female character on stage, but she was not the only woman in the play, and indeed I discovered that the women in the play were numerous, active, dissenting and subverted some very interesting stereotypes. The single female and two male characters actually on stage conjured these women into life in very different and interesting ways.
The character of Pongo adds his beloved and lovely mother to the population of unseen women onstage. Pongo is the every-person character, and in Kingsley Judd’s incredible hands he is the essential rage of men and women that in its expression derails the civil lives of the angry.
I was happily challenged by Dr Lee, the new mother and state funded doctor working towards eradicating violence. Sally Bruce playing her as collected, focussed and tired, which made her brief and stressful breakdown triggered by a deeply personal situation more effective because it was the moment of 'stage femininity' that showed how admirably un-'stage feminine' she was at other times. Personally I find the physical and vocal hysteria written and directed into many female characters on stage to be an archaic creative convention, but more of that anon.
And then we have Elmo, the unreconstructed male with the unrelentingly misogynist language and ideas, who gradually tells us the stories of the many women in his city who are engaged in acts of civil disobedience to protest the waging of a war. Patrick Downes' Elmo introduces these women through the prism of his desire to fuck them, his terror of them not laughing at his jokes and his respect for the dedication they show to expressing their anger.
The only visible woman in the play, Dr Lee, is a perfectly modern realisation of the moral ambiguity of a person (not a gender) pursuing science in the name of an ideology that wishes to restrain humans. She is also a functioning modern mother, and that element of ceaseless service to family and society is well overdue to be seen on stage.
Elmo’s women are another kettle of fish altogether, they are political, angry, dissenting and active, they have strong reason, physical and mental courage and they pose the threat of a descent into anarchy as long as they are engaged in civil disobedience. I am really glad that the unseen women on the stage in Animal were not there to focus on building the character of the men on stage; they were to pull the two men along in their wake, educating them on resistance and commitment.
All in all I enjoyed the extraordinary language of the playwright, the director and actors who made a lot of good choices for the unseen women, and the truly accomplished performances of the three actors. I look forward to Upstart Theatre Company's next discussion of humans, I can tell you that much.
I sent the draft of this review to the director before posting it, and his reply held some important questions that prompted me to write even more!