Jon Bradfield’s new play about a disabled man’s dating life covers a lot of serious subjects. Bias (conscious and unconscious), consent, virtue signalling, accessibility issues, body dysmorphia… they all get a look in.
But ultimately, ‘Animal’ is a zippy, poignant play about wanking. And it’s great.
The story has been co-created with Josh Hepple, who has cerebral palsy, and follows David (Christopher John-Slater) a young, gay bloke with cerebral palsy. He lives with his generous, caring flatmate Jill (Amy Loughton, more later) and is assisted by an optimistic, struggling actor called Derek (Matt Ayleigh, sensational hair). What David lacks in conventional mobility he makes up for in better-than-average dick pics. ‘Animal’ follows him as he negotiates the unforgiving and relentless world of app dating.
Disregard all your assumptions about what such a play might entail. The combination of Bradfield’s propulsive, fat-free dialogue and Slater-John’s brooding, hormone-charged performance ensure that ‘Animal’ never drags, preaches or befuddles. Yes, it’s hard-hitting, but Bronagh Lagan's lively production feels more like a feature-length, live episode of an award-winning sitcom. A really good one.
The set, designed by Gregor Donnelly, does exactly what you want it to do, embellishing the drama with a satisfying amount of eye-catching pizzazz while never diminishing the work done by the cast. Among the supporting players, Loughton deserves significant praise for her arrestingly dignified portrayal of Jill. A performer of obvious strength and versatility, Loughton turns a character that could have felt cypher-ish into an undeniable moral linchpin.
If the above sounds appealing, I urge you to go and check out this punchy play. In a world that’s increasingly held static by the stultifying effects of identity politics, it’s marvellous to find something that deals with so many Big and Important themes in such a breezy, confident way.