Animal at Park Theatre
Disabled people have sex. This is the reality celebrated in Park Theatre’s latest show, Animal, an exceptional piece of theatre that is searingly insightful, soulfully intimate and utterly hilarious.
Directed by Bronagh Logan, this new play by Jon Bradfield and Josh Hepple centres around the inimitable David (portrayed in a blistering performance by Christopher John-Slater), a gay and feverishly horny young man, who is a wheelchair user because of his cerebral palsy. The plot pursues his initial forays in the sexual arena and how his adventure ties in with relationships with friends, carers, parents and eventually lovers. The cast of six is deployed brilliantly and effectively, including role-doubling produced with good humour and self-aware effervescence (William Oxborrow as various older male Grindr encounters, and as David’s dad, is particularly impressive in this regard). There is a dynamism to how the company is utlised that grips the audience throughout, even as the actors themselves tend to the staging between scenes.
This production is uniquely brilliant in its sensitive foregrounding of a disabled protagonist, who isn’t type-cast as a tragic hero. David is as fully socially integrated into the tale as would be the case in real life, even if that reality doesn’t often make it onto the stage or screen. There is a very genuine understanding in the way his character and the differently-abled experience is written by Bradfield and Hepple, and played by John-Slater (perhaps less surprising in light of the fact that both Hepple and John-Slater also have cerebral palsy). The piece is a celebration of the social model of disability, which propounds that a person’s difficulties are not necessarily caused by their impairment or health condition, but rather by the barriers they face in society – as opposed to lacking themselves, they are in fact victims of a situation and infrastructure that has not yet adapted, and therefore the onus (or shame) lies with the latter.
The set design (by Gregor Donnelly) and staging are simple and clear-cut, in keeping with the highly personal tone of the work and making effective use of Park Theatre’s close and convivial space. Projections, primarily depicting mobile phone screens from Grindr profiles to texts, are aptly but unobtrusively used to convey context – a deft technique that ensures character inferences can be made that are later affirmed. Indeed, each individual portrayed has a depth and a reason to be, and that is what makes this play so engaging, as well as being undeniably important. Absolutely not to be missed.
Animal is at Park Theatre from 19th April until 20th May 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: