Scots playwright Stef Smith makes a blinder of a Royal Court debut with this short but expansive vision of societal collapse.
Something is up with the pigeons: they seem to be gathering in abnormal numbers, smashing into windows. It’s a bit freaky. But it’s a long way away from ‘The Birds’.
That doesn’t seem to be the attitude taken in the area of West London where this is all going on - rumours abound of a terrible disease spread by all animals, and a mania emerges, a madness that sees humans attempt to eradicate all trace of nature; by the end houses are being town down just because a few starlings landed on them.
In the middle of this chaos, we meet a snapshot of the local populace. Young couple Lisa and Jamie, sent off the rails by the horror of it all; fatalist mother Nancy, and her daughter Alex, back from her travels and determined to try and make a stand against the madfness; rich, curmudgeonly John, who barely tolerates slimy, self-pitying chemical executive Si who attempts to befriend him down the local pub. It’s a fascinating and gripping portrait of a world being ripped apart by human irrationality.
A huge strength of both the play and Hamish Pirie’s production is how resolutely ambiguous it is: it functions as a perfect allegory for hysteria around everything from migrants to benefits cheats, but suggestive without committing itself, or spelling anything out. Holding back from overt politicisation or easy lefty preaching gives ‘Human Animals’ more depth - it functions as an uneasy comment on the human species’ general propensity for dangerous hysteria, and also our arrogant, troubled relationship with nature.
Camilla Clarke’s evocative set keeps things resolutely surreal, a Perspex wall splashed by blood, strafed by strobes, behind which nightmarish things are hinted at in the flickering light.