This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub.
The so-called “best years of our lives” are thrown under the microscope in Ian Toner’s Animalia, which explores the vicious world of prepubescent schoolgirls in Dublin. Opening with a schoolyard food fight the pace is set to maximum and these little ladies are anything but. The stakes are high when it comes to popularity and boyfriends, as explained by the litany of girls, all played by Ashleigh Dorrell and Louise O’Meara, who also become parents, grandparent, teachers, and… crickets. Friendships are formed and then destroyed in mere minutes in this dog eat dog preteen culture. Through a series of events both hilarious and tragic, two old friends are brought back together and the power of true friendship is put to the test.
In this two-hander there is a lot of weight upon the shoulders of both Dorrell and O’Meara. Thankfully, they are built of sturdy stuff. The breadth of characters they portray range in age and gender, yet with a change of facial expression or inflection there is absolutely no doubt as to who is who. Adult actors playing the role of children can usually grate a few gears but here the performances are utterly convincing without resorting to infantilism. Finlay’s direction ensures that despite all the character and location changes the performance remains tight and doesn’t wane or lose momentum, which is also testament to Toner’s well written script.
The seemingly brutalist set (Katie Foley) of mostly metal is oddly soft and very versatile. Two benches provide an array of locations and a chain-link fence is an apt backdrop for the world of these school going characters while also giving a nod to their animalistic behaviours. Sound and lighting flow well, with minimal use of suitable effects adding to the overall production value of the piece.
Animalia is a hugely affective 50 minutes of theatre, in which the overriding humour gives way to the poignant and troubled experiences faced by young people. It serves to highlight how their lives are no less complex than their adult counterparts, perhaps even more so. The superb performances from both Dorrell and O’Meara bring Animalia to life and will make you laugh out loud while also tugging on your heartstrings.
Runs until 18 September as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival | Image: Paul Dorrell
Writer: Ian Toner
Director: Sarah Finlay