Animals Who Ate Their Humans definitely lives up to the description on Camdram as ‘grotesque, surreal and absurd’.
With two Ukrainian soldiers called Sasha and Misha, a dead boy, some dead dogs, and a fish, Animals Who Ate Their Humans questions what it means to die, to be human, to experience war.
Once dead, are we objects to be stuffed and hung on a mantlepiece, or are we sacred, to be left untouched? Are we, as humans, senseless killers or superior beings? What value do we and should we place on human and animal life?
The fact that this piece is so absurdist means that it is difficult to judge alongside the criteria for ‘normal’ student theatre. The acting was not wholly convincing, but with such a strange script I think any sort of naturalism would have been inappropriate. The audience is obviously not meant to believe that events taking place on stage are real, so the lack of distinct characterisations and weirdly-paced dialogue felt stylistically consistent.
That said, my favourite character was probably ‘Laddie’, brought to life so endearingly by Emma Shen, in a performance that encapsulated exactly what I imagine a bubbly, six-year-old dead boy in an absurdist piece of theatre should be.
For the first half of this production, I must admit that I was very confused, but as the play progressed, messages and metaphors revealed themselves and I increasingly picked up on them.
In some senses this is only natural, and it is great to have moments of revelation when one finally starts to understand some of the absurdity. Personally, I would have preferred for these epiphanies to have happened earlier, as my extended bewilderment meant I was unable to properly appreciate a significant portion of this production, although one could argue that confusion here was somewhat appropriate.
Experimental use of lighting, sound, and props was very exciting. Puppetry was used in a way that was not overbearing, and really added to the performance.
For example, the dead dogs were beautifully and bizarrely constructed from soft toys, ribbons, string, and cardboard, able to create movement, and yet act as ‘dead’ objects, while a white sheet at the back of the stage was used for shadow-puppetry, mostly to demonstrate the presence of the fish.
This was incorporated into transitions beautifully as an element of foreshadowing, and its portrayal of underwater movement was atmospherically effective.
Use of voice-overs and sound-effects is also to be commended, and while some attempts were not wholly successful (I would say that the radio clips of people discussing dead bodies went on for slightly too long), in general additions were intriguing and added to the overall impression of thoughtful madness. The song was a highlight.
This production provides so much to talk about which I must unfortunately avoid for fear of spoilers. While I’m no connoisseur of absurdism, I know that when there is a lot to discuss, something has been done right. In that respect, this production succeeded.