Lisa (Lisa McGrillis) works for Si, but she's hiding the fact that her boyfriend Jamie (Ashley Zhangazha) is sympathetic to the animals, and keeping an injured pigeon in a shoebox to try and mend its wings.
Camilla Clarke's primary-coloured set design looks a bit like a 1960s' sci-fi vision of the future, or the inside of an aquarium habitat (where, in fact, some of the action ends up taking place.) The back wall is a large perspex window on which birdshit and blood is occasionally splattered, and the play opens with a blood bag splashing onto the stage to represent one of the bird strikes. For the first half-hour I was unsure what I really thought of the play's surreal nature but - unusually, as this sort of realisation tends to build gradually - it became suddenly clear about halfway through that this really wasn't for me.
Smith's prose tends towards the florid, and every so often the characters break off to stare into the middle distance and speak disconnected words in a repeated cycle - honestly why the Royal Court wants to keep making audiences think they're back In the Republic of Happiness is a mystery to me. Although there are deliberately funny lines, there's also quite a few too many unintentionally funny ones, and the sombreness of Hamish Pirie's production doesn't help the urge to get fits of the giggles when the characters come out with something like "Does it hurt when they eat you?"* or tell us about a suicidal dolphin. With its subtly growing menace and ideas like the fact that any adverse effect of the animals on humans is purely anecdotal, Human Animals looks promising as a darkly surreal fable, but it quickly loses its way.
Human Animals by Stef Smith is booking until the 18th of June at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.
Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes straight through.
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks.
*of course context is everything, so the context is: Lisa is considering being eaten alive by foxes as a lifestyle choice, as Jamie is already doing‡
‡also, in the context of this being a metaphor for immigration, what exactly is Smith trying to say if the people who let the animals live end up getting eaten by them?