Wednesday 12 September 2018

Two Animals - Theatre Review

What: Two Animals (that don't traditionally get along)
When: 10 - 16 September 2018
Where: Downstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written by: Rian Howlett
Performed by: Jessica Ciancio, Mitchell Holland and Rian Howlett
Mitchell Holland and Jessica Ciancio

Two Animals (that don't traditionally get along) is a punny take on Satre's No Exit, with a super-objective of attempting to overcome racism. It is being played at The Butterfly Club all this week.

A simple technique to help the audience avoid a sense of threat and defensiveness with challenging work is to use puppets, alter-egos, or - in this case - turn the cast into animals. Howlett does this by making his characters a giraffe (Holland) and a penguin (Cianco). The giraffe Harold - no relation - and the penguin Franky - formerly Pingu - have escaped from the zoo and are making their own way in the world now that they are free to do and be what they want.

With his head in the clouds, Harold has become an academic with lots of lofty theoretical ideas and musings. Meanwhile Franky has kept her feet on the ground and has spent her time being  ... a penguin. They meet up waiting in line at a bookshop to buy a new edition of Mein Kampf in which the translator has found new nuances.

Mein Kampf is really more of a pointer to help us understand this work is about racism and doesn't really go beyond the set up. Racism is continually referenced, but to be honest I left feeling the show is more about intolerance generally, and social prejudice rather than actual racism. This could be a problem with the writing because although there was a lot of discussion about how racist each of them were, there was never any real indication of it in their actions or any recollections of significance which made me go 'ooh, that's racist!'

Holland and Ciancio did a great job and Ciancio's penguin was very convincing throughout. Holland's giraffe was less giraffe-like, but his character certainly was the epitome of an out of touch academic. Pitting the practical, no-nonsense penguin with the philosophical giraffe worked well as metaphors for socio-economic positioning, but by giving them this point of difference diluted the red-neck aspects of Franky and turned the effect into one of social privilege rather than race.

There was a brief glimmer of Hitler's 'might makes right' policy when Harold refuses to believe what Franky is telling him and then force feeds her a suspect souvlaki and that's when everything goes a bit wierd. The lights change and suddenly there is the voice of...Gibbler?

As in the world created by Sartre, the two animals find themselves locked in a room with each other and they have to find a way out and they can only do it by working together. Barriers of intolerance and assumption must be overcome if there is any hope of escape.

This all sound very serious but there are a lot of puns and Holland's performance is particularly over the top and comedic. The problem is, just like the character of Harold, this play is all ideas and no substance.

Racism is a harsh and loaded word and there needs to be something firm on which it stands. It is thought turned into action (or inaction) which is harmful to a certain ethnic group of people just because they belong to that group. Howlett tosses the word around a lot in Two Animals but it seems to be just philosophical concepts in this play. Perhaps the giraffe and penguin are just too friendly and get along too well at the start so we don't get an arc in their relationship.

I think we are in different times to Sartre and this kind of pure philosophy has no impact in a post-dramatic world. Where is the pain? Where is the fear? Yes, it is a comedy, but is this parody of children's TV the right format for such a conversation? It might be better as satire where it can connect as well as distract.

Two Animals (that don't traditionally get along) is best served with a couple of cocktails under your belt so you can let go of deep thinking and enjoy these odd creatures fighting over a souvlaki because there are some really good laughs in the show. Luckily, it is at The Butterfly Club where cocktails are the specialty of the house!

2 Stars

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