Reviewed – 11th February 2019
“written with tender intelligence and a pinch of knowing wit”
The Soho Theatre is renowned for championing new writing, offering platforms to the brightest new playwrights this country has to offer. Soft Animals, the debut play by Holly Robinson, is a solid example of this. A pacy examination of ethics, exploring unorthodox friendships amidst an age of blame and hate.
Sarah (Ellie Piercy) is scrubbing graffitied obscenities off her front door. Frankie (Bianca Stephens) is struggling to do the most basic of daily tasks. Since the tragic accident that brought these two women together, the last thing either expected would be to find comfort and solace from each other’s company. Battling through the mountain of hate mail and social media death threats, it is their shared need to self-destruct in order to deal with their pain, which strangely offers them a chance to save one another.
Holly Robinson certainly does a creditable job on her first play. Soft Animals is written with tender intelligence and a pinch of knowing wit. You can tell she delights in drip feeding the audience the integral bits of information, gradually forming the bigger picture of what the accident entailed. The suspense that ensues makes for compelling viewing.
The odd bits of commentary on racial inequality and stereotyping, as well as the acknowledgment of still recognisable class structures, adds relevancy, even if at times it feels like it’s executed heavy handedly. The small yet priceless comedic observations on 21st-century life help to bring lighter moments to what otherwise would be an awful amount of troubling darkness.
The two actors nimbly dance around the shifting status of their characters’ relationship as it moves from being like mother and daughter, to patient and carer, to being part romantic, to part dependent.
Performed in the round, in a very intimate space, you can feel the claustrophobic intensity of Sarah and Frankie’s connection. You are very much a part of the action which makes it completely absorbing. The clever design of soft-play like furniture that affix together in building block fashion, is an understated nod to lost childhood which becomes a significant part of the plot (without giving too much away).
We live in a world where online trolling and anger-filled social media posts occurs ferociously. Robinson uses this cultural climate to colour the environment in which her characters have to battle. It places the play completely in our zeitgeist. But what truly stands out is the multi-faceted qualities of female friendships and how intense a female bond can be.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Helen Maybanks
Soho Theatre until 2nd March
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