Theatre503 presents ANIMALS by Emma Adams: Theatre Review

The most intriguing thing about this dystopian satire is that, despite being set a good thirty years in the future, it depicts a world we’re headed straight for unless we pull our socks up. In Emma Adams’ imagining of 2046, the over-60s must prove their value to society (and their own families) to avoid a nasty lethal injection, and the female youth are clothed in bubble-wrap and discouraged from overthinking to avoid becoming “comfort-girls” to lonely older men.

Animals follows 77 year-old Norma (Marlene Sidaway) and her live-in carer Joy (Sadie Shimmin) who, at 59, has just one ‘legal’ year left in her before the Utility Force try to snuff her out. They’re joined by 70 year-old, amphetamine-snorting Helen (Cara Chase) and Maya (Milly Thomas), a 17 year-old girl on the eve of her transition into an adult. Norma rules over what’s left of her little world from the comfort of her treasured recliner, puzzling over crosswords and bickering with Joy whilst attempting to ward off the Utility Inspector’s deadly syringe by cunningly fibbing out her age. Long-suffering Joy just about holds her own under Norma’s dominance, who has drawn her into a dark underworld of child murder, cannibalism and blackmail. Helen is a ‘nice’, ‘lovely’ woman appropriated by Norma because she is ‘useful’; she owns an uncensored dictionary and is therefore the perfect crossword-solving companion. Maya strays from her overprotective father, Noah the Utility Inspector (Steve Hansell), and ends up in Norma’s home where she befriends Helen. Maya is very naïve and childlike for a 17 year-old by our current standards. This could be mistaken for a fault in the writing but I think what Adams is really trying to do here is show us the depleting effect of this world’s restrictive parenting strategies on its children. Milly Thomas gives a commendable performance as Maya, providing the energy and vibrancy needed to juxtapose the stale, embittered existences of the older characters.

There are great moments in Animals, like when Helen and Maya play together in the garden, sharing experiences of fun and loss, and when Noah arrives to euthanise Helen in a humorous case of mistaken identity. Max Dorey’s set design is wonderfully grimy and serves its purpose imaginatively, but Adams’ combination of sardonic comedy and dark dystopia doesn’t always harmonise, making the play seem a little confused at times with what it’s meant to be. Some features of the world we’re given are commented on passingly without being fully explained, therefore not really earning their place in the plot. The restrictions imposed on language and free thought conjure ideas pertaining to Orwell, Newspeak and Thought Police, but these allusions don’t quite survive amongst everything else. The climax is violent and out of touch with the rest of the play; a bit too Phillip Ridley for my liking.

Lisa Cagnacci’s production could use a little more attention to detail but it is ultimately entertaining. It’s also refreshing to see ladies of a certain age playing corrupted ‘animals’, rather than grandmothers and old crones. It is equally a huge shame that we find such a thing remarkable. This is because of industry-wide (and society-wide) prejudice against older women, so other writers must now step forward to carry the same torch as Emma Adams and create more, better roles for our veteran actresses.

© Hannah Roe, 2015


ANIMALS by Emma Adams

Theatre503, 503 Battersea Park Road, London, SW11 3BW

Closes 2nd May

7.45pm / 5pm on Sundays


Tickets: £15 / Concessions £12 / Pay-What-You-Can Sundays

Phone: 020 7978 7040


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