Pigmalion Zoo

Mon 5th – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

Joshua Adcock

at 20:28 on 15th Aug 2013

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I don’t know whether 'Pigmalion Zoo' achieved its aims, because I’m not quite sure what its aims were, and I’m not entirely certain that that uncertainty wasn’t its actual aim. I’m also not sure whether one of the characters may or may not have had, or at least considered having, metaphorical sex with a horse which may or may not have been his wife-to-be. This absurdist piece of theatre unfolds in a theoretical future where God has been found dead in a Sainsbury’s car park, but the thrust of the piece is a tone of floaty, abstract space and time without literal or realistic context.

Akin to Beckett in tone, the play includes irritable companions locked together in claustrophobic and disjointed space; they burst into bouts of song, expelling commercial jingles revolving around Coca-Cola, infected with the commercialism and materialism of the cultural wasteland which surrounds them. Drifting into re-enactments of what appears to be the past, and hazily phasing in and out of their own identity - including, as suggested above, becoming a horse - they suggest a world of hopeless confusion, which was unfortunately mirrored in the bewilderment of some of the audience members.

All of this implies an earnest intention to show us something of great importance, however, the play doesn’t quite hit that tone. For a start, the idea of God being found dead in a car park, and of auditioning for the position via a game show called 'Holy PG Tips' is ridiculously banal, even in a play of existential cruelty. In short, for a play which desperately seems to be trying to say something, and which walks in the shadows of giants, it seems a bit glib.

Nonetheless, encapsulating the play’s absurdity is a masterly display of staging and lighting: several arresting moments of imagery popped up in places, including an episode of longing towards the moon, and the chaotic riot of frenetic energy which bursts out alongside the musical elements. Staged in a studio theatre, in the round, all of these passionate energies were thrust at the audience, and from my seat the action was perfectly visible, though I can’t say how well audience members on the opposite side got to grips with everything. All three actors were totally committed to their roles, and each displayed moments of admirable depth and passion, matching the fearlessness of the script and its well-wrought prose.

Visceral and explosive at moments, 'Pigmalion Zoo' seems determined to confound and shock the audience, and it does succeed, if that is indeed its intention. Unfortunately, the exact nature of what its message is, beyond a distressing comment on the world’s materialism, is quite unclear.

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Emma-Jane Manion

at 10:16 on 16th Aug 2013

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It is advised you read the summary of ‘Pigmalion Zoo’ before embarking on this theatrical experience. Or maybe don’t. Maybe this is best gone into without expectation or preconception. Any knowledge of the plot seems essentially redundant, perhaps instead you should roll with the chaos.

The performance begins with a woman wearing only her underwear, a plastic see-through hazard suit and sunglasses. On a table, ready to be examined, is Pigmalion, who is wearing something that would not look out of place at Woodstock or some of the trendier parts of Shoreditch. She is treated like an animal ready for breeding, and Cassandra Bond pitches her performance somewhere between rabid dog and feral child. This culminates in her aggressively dancing to Peaches' ‘Fuck the pain away’, whilst another woman dressed as a dominatrix Anna Wintour laughs and throws popcorn at her. The best thing, however, is the studio theatre allows for us to see the reactions of other members of the audience, which range from horrified to humoured to angrily wondering if they could get a refund.

The moments of real surprise are the most delightful. A puppet crow is sung to, sacrificed with a wringing of the neck. I half expected the daughter to manically rip it up with her teeth and hands, but instead it is unzipped and dinner is served: three Kit-Kat Chunkys and pepper-beef jerky. Less delightful and more disturbing is Notma’s transformation into a horse, where the whole thing goes a bit 'Equus'. People are reduced to animals. Even Pigmalion ends up jerking about to 'The Bad Touch’, on leash held by his daughter. Let’s do it like they do on the Discovery channel.

This is a perverse exploration of family dynamics. Preparing your daughter to be raped by a resurrected God is concerning to say the least. This is before we consider being forced to wear a virgin’s dunce hat and eat banana off the floor. Things take a far more sinister turn at the end, and I long for them to dance the Macarena to 'The Lonely Island' to lighten the mood.

If anything, maybe this is not absurd enough, staying too close to reason and actively encouraging the audience to seek out a meaning. The message I found was trite – oh isn’t reality TV just not actually reality all? Aren’t big brands and companies our new deities? This play is also unintentionally hilarious with its disco lights and abrasive electronica. I can’t say I enjoyed it for the right reasons, or that the company achieved what they wanted. Nonetheless, you cannot come the Fringe without enjoying (or at least witnessing) some of the stranger performances on offer.

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