“possesses many strong qualities, but Bevan’s ambitious script is overflowing with ideas at the expense of cohesion”
Ever wondered what zoos do with the animals during extreme weather? As Hurricane Jonas rages toward Cherokee Valley Zoo in Miami, curator Bonnie (Lily Bevan) talks us through her preparation routine. It involves herding flamingos into the zoo’s restroom. Meanwhile, across the pond in Yorkshire, bat expert Carol (Lorna Beckett) suffers through another school visit to teach children about the cave-dwelling creatures. Bonnie is an enthusiastic American who does her best to “surround people with light.” Carol is as reserved as they come in Yorkshire. The two women have almost nothing in common, except they both like animals more than people.
Bevan’s Zoo interweaves Bonnie and Carol’s stories, occasionally using flashbacks to trace their friendship, which began at a zoologist conference in England. Bevan is warm and energetic as the high-spirited Bonnie. She performs a humorous, intensely earnest monologue filled with weird and gross facts about animals. Did you know penguins will engage in necrophilia? Her bubbly narration is directly at odds with the increasing threat of the hurricane.
Beckett has a good sense of the comedy around her own, more subdued character, and skilfully draws it out. In scenes together, Bonnie and Carol’s dynamic is fun and engaging. There’s some excellent writing in this piece about female friendship and love for animals, but as a whole it’s uneven. What ought to be a tight hour meanders instead. The small, scattered digs into Bonnie’s backstory are too shallow to really expose much, and an unsubtle confrontation about Carol’s abusive ex-husband feels wedged in.
The show appears to lose its way somewhere around the middle in terms of both subject and tone. The first and second part seem like two different plays hanging together uncomfortably. Another sudden turn toward the end takes us to an oddly spiritual culmination of the story that feels out-of-step with the rest.
A highly distinctive show that’s fresh and frequently compelling, Zoo possesses many strong qualities, but Bevan’s ambitious script is overflowing with ideas at the expense of cohesion.
“It’s a heavy monologue, but Wass regularly drops dark, deadpan jokes that work all the better for their unexpected nature”
The Thelmas are back with their second show at VAULT Festival this year. While Santi and Naztook us to India in the 1940s, Notch takes a scathing look at present-day Dublin. An unnamed European immigrant from an unnamed Slavic country finds the West, Ireland in particular, isn’t the land of opportunity she thought it would be.
Drawing from personal experience, Croatian writer/performer Danaja Wass uses spoken word and visual media to tell her story. In Dublin, Wass’ character lives in hostels and works a minimum wage job. She dreams of climbing up the ladder, but the current anti-European sentiment is a heavy weight on her shoulders. Ireland’s disdain for foreigners affects her mental health to the point that she loses her job. With no money, and no friends or family in the country, she faces homelessness.
In the wake of Brexit, Wass aims a well-timed shot to the heart of Britain and Ireland’s xenophobia. Directed by Madelaine Moore, Notch is a fearless confrontation of a broken system. Wass gives a committed performance, sliding between a Croatian and Dublin accent. Behind her is a TV, which sometimes displays clips of her love interest (Evelyn Lockley). Other times, closeups of Wass pulling at her face reiterates her corporeal existence while her character is made to feel invisible.
It’s a heavy monologue, but Wass regularly drops dark, deadpan jokes that work all the better for their unexpected nature. However, the aggressively fragmented composition of the show is a risky choice that doesn’t pay off. Split into jagged, haphazard sections of storytelling and spoken word, the narration is very difficult to follow. Although a sense of disorder may have been intentional, the chaotic structure too often leaves the audience out of the loop. Sudden jumps in tone, time, and place make piecing it all together a challenge. Jerky transitions and abrupt changes in lighting (Martha Godfrey) give a rocky overall impression.
Wass has a strong voice, and hers is undoubtedly a story we should be listening to right now. Notch is a bold piece with a singular perspective – it’s a shame so much feels lost in the jumble.