Animal House

Thu 13th – Sat 22nd August 2015

reviews

Poppy McLean

at 01:08 on 22nd Aug 2015

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Animal House, a new children’s comedy written and performed by students from the Minotaur Theatre Company, provides an hour of silly and surreal fun for all ages. No, really: I think I actually laughed more during this show than at some Fringe stand-up acts.

Steph, an imaginative young girl played with great puerile energy by Lucy Attwell, is fuming at her older brother’s apparent contempt for fun and approaching departure to university. Her writing him into her book as the big bad Meanie triggers their joint voyage into its bustling jungle world, where they are ultimately reconciled.

This will clearly resonate as an issue close to the heart of any young sibling, but the real strength of this show lies in the wonderfully fun characters and conversations which hold this world together.

From the high-speed, high-energy banter between Lion and Ape (Calhan Mundy and Alistair Bourne), to the dottily-wise Eagle (Linus Wyeth) and the sluggish but lovable Sloth (Marie Morris), each bizarre figure (even the occasionally grating Cat) had an individual charm, and the way they often incorporated their respective animal noises into their speech was terrific.

The costumes were also fantastic, and made the staggeringly realised transition from the bleak world of reality to Steph’s dazzling imaginings a truly enjoyable one. The humour was varied (not falling into the child-comedy pitfall of overusing toilet jokes), putting an almost constant smile on one little boy’s face. Another boy, younger but much more vocal, seemed almost to be wanting to join in with the clamour on stage. Writer Sam King should also be commended for how creatively Steph’s everyday childish thoughts and experiences were incorporated into her jungle creation.

The performance way by no means perfect, with some key moments (the children’s journey into the book, the arrival of the real Meanie, and the show’s final lines between the reunited siblings) coming across as a little hollow and underwhelming, which may have made it difficult for them to have the same impact on the children in the audience than the play’s more successful moments of fun. Also, while having characters sit and lie on the floor of the stage is undoubtedly necessary for a play about animals, this occasionally left those not in the front row unable to see what was taking place.

Generally speaking, however, this was an immensely enjoyable show with something to say about important questions facing younger children: I would definitely recommend it to any parent in search of quality family entertainment.

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Holly Harper

at 15:06 on 22nd Aug 2015

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Written and performed by students from the University of East Anglia, this children’s comedy is a surprising and sophisticated portrayal of the power of imagination. The most captivating aspect of Animal House is without a doubt the brilliant evocation of an imaginary world: convincing and charming in its simplicity. Sam King and Billy Gyngell’s direction brings the world of the jungle to life in an intimately interactive performance that is entertaining from beginning to end.

This original play by the Minotaur Theatre Company is a modern fairy tale, the story of a set of siblings who are sucked into a world of imagination and games written about by Steph in her diary. Both of these student actors are persuasive in their roles as younger children, with a standout performance from Lucy Attwell, who plays Steph with comic enthusiasm. The plot is the weakest aspect of this children’s comedy that otherwise succeeds in making an entertaining hour for the whole family. Come the end of the play, a vague message emerges about the importance of imagination, even when you’re growing up and leaving your childhood behind.

The transition from everyday world to that of the imagination was an exciting aspect of the play. There was a charm to the sudden intimacy of the small venue, and the simplicity of using lighting and black outs to achieve two contrasting worlds was inspired and enjoyable. It is clear that much time has been spent on making the play a sensory experience for the audience. The actors play a host of animals with skill, their movements accurate and their characters funny.

The reconciling moments at the end of the play between Steph and Steven seem rushed and contrived within the overall structure. Indeed, whilst the directors played to their own strengths by spending such a large part of the play within the imaginary world, there is much to be desired at the close. The story itself has much potential for structural perfection and more should have been made of Steven’s departure to University and Steph’s reluctance to accept change. However, for a mere 50 minutes this charming children’s comedy achieved great things. Performed maturely by a student company, they are proof that growing up doesn’t necessarily happen at the expense of fun and excitement.

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