Animal follows the story of David, a 25-year-old gay man with cerebral palsy. David battles with the frustrations of limited mobility and being reliant on around the clock care, alongside his lack of sexual connection. This leads to David downloading the dating app 'Grindr' in attempt to begin his sexual odyssey. As the story unfolds, David's desperate choices lead to a series of uncomfortable, challenging life experiences and the breakdown of relationships with his support system.
The play takes place in David's flat which he shares with best friend Jill and in which he receives care from his assistant, Derek. Cleverly designed by Gregor Donnelly, the set is minimal with cast members moving props off and onto the stage to adapt the different locations within the flat. This set works really well because it gives a real intimate feel to the play as the audience are invited into his home as we watch David's journey unfold. There is also good use of video projections (Matt Powell) which shows David's experiences on Grindr and the conversations that he has to endure in order to seek a suitor to meet his needs.
After many failed attempts, David meets Liam (Joshua Liburd) and feels like he has hit the jackpot. Liam is scared of commitment and suffers with self-confidence issues. Liburd plays this convincingly as he consistently gives stand-offish vibes throughout and made me question his motives several times. Whilst Liam's issues are addressed briefly, I feel that there could have been more depth to his storyline so that I could fully understand and emphasise with Liam's decision making.
As well as navigating his relationship with Liam, David's desperation in the wrong choices that he makes leads to a breakdown in his friendships. Amy Loughton, who plays Jill, and Harry Singh, who plays Mani, both play their characters superbly, showing their vulnerability but also being fierce and not allowing David to get away with his mistakes due to his impairments.
Jon Bradfield and Josh Hepple have written this piece so cleverly that it incorporates serious and vital messages, but still allows opportunities for light hearted humour. It is so refreshing to see that the story is written so that although the play is centred around a disabled individual, we are not made to feel empathetic because of his impairments. Instead, we see David as an individual who has these complex emotions and needs just like every other person, and the lengths he will go to meet these needs. Christopher-John Slater plays David extremely well, perfectly portraying his desperation and frustration throughout, whilst at times still being good-natured and lending a hand to some hilarious moments in the story.
Completing the cast are Matt Ayleigh and William Oxborrow. Ayleigh plays Derek with such likeable qualities - he is loyal, supportive, and radiates kindness and warmth. He also has some real comedic moments which lands perfectly and gets a good response from the audience. Ayleigh also plays Nuno, one of David's abusive sexual partners. He plays this part with a real dark and mean streak that couldn't be any further from the likability of Derek. Oxborrow plays David's dad, who is serious and stern, but the audience can tell that he lovingly only wants the best for David. He also plays several of David's ghastly Grindr matches, in which he plays each character so differently with completely different mannerisms that it's hard to believe that it is the same actor.
Animal is a vital, heartfelt and at times, hilarious piece of storytelling. It advocates the importance of being aware of the fact that individuals with disabilities and impairments are still human beings and still have the same feelings, thoughts and needs that everybody else does. Sometimes, these acts of desperation can lead to negative consequences and mistakes.
Animal runs at the Hope Mill Theatre until 2nd April, before embarking on a run in London. For more information and tickets, click here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review