Awkward Conversations with Animals I’ve F*cked at the King’s Head Theatre: ‘It delivers the product as advertised, but no more.’
London Student’s Lustful Critic, Sarah Gibbs, reviews the post-coital one-man show, Awkward Conversations with Animals I’ve F*cked.
Well, you certainly can’t accuse him of false advertising. Rob Hayes’s Awkward Conversations with Animals I’ve F*cked, now on stage at the King’s Head Theatre, is indeed a series of cringe-worthy post-coital encounters with four-legged critters, both wild and domestic. I would put the level of discomfort somewhere around running into your boss in the change room at the gym and realizing too late that he or she is one of those “air-dry-in-the-nude” sort of people. The weirdness of director Katherine Armitage’s production both distinguishes, and fundamentally limits, the work. It delivers the product as advertised, but no more.
When we meet Bobby (Linus Karp), he’s propped up in bed and stealing glances at the stray with whom he’s spent the night. There’s a first time for everything, including bestiality, and Bobby seems delighted that a humiliating exit from a friend’s engagement party facilitated the encounter. “You know,” he giggles, “We’re raised to believe you guys have a default position. You’ve certainly put that rumour to bed.” As his sexual menagerie grows to include a cat, a billy goat, and a monkey, details of his traumatic childhood and social isolation emerge. The void is psychological, one the entire animal kingdom would fail to fill.
In the programme, the creative team thanks, among others, Maddie Rice, a playwright and actress whose one-woman show Pickle Jar was one of the best things I saw last year. I found myself comparing Hayes’s work, also a solo piece and of a similar duration, rather unfavourably to the other play. Pickle Jar initially appeared to be a comic story of a hyper-uncool teacher; the themes expanded and darkened, however, with Rice assuming multiple roles in an acting tour de force. Awkward Conversations acquaints us with Bobby alone, and he often makes a less than pleasant companion. As the play opens directly after his first night in the doggy position, the audience’s only understanding of him is as a deeply transgressive figure, winningly strange, at times, but still wholly alien. Although background details gradually emerge, they’re too sparse to form a rounded character; who this man was before he began winking at zoo animals remains unclear.
Furthermore, while Bobby’s liaisons with various pets produce some amazing dialogue—“I’d install a cat flap,” he tells his feline conquest, “but, you know, I’m not a slut”—the set-ups are ultimately repetitive. He gazes adoringly at each beast as it awakens, then fumbles in his description of the night’s wonders, before finally expressing an unreciprocated desire for a meaningful relationship. Watching someone strike out repeatedly is wearying in any context; when it’s a petting zoo goat doing the rejecting, the discomfort is almost too much to bear. The intimacy of the King’s Head heightens the claustrophobia of Bobby’s morning-after monologues. Despite a start time of 9:30 pm, some audience members still gave the impression they’d just come from the office, carting folded bicycles and backpacks big enough to carry a body into the theatre’s narrow rows. There was no elbow room, and nowhere to hide.
My evening with Rob Hayes’s hero made me feel awkward to an extent I would have imagined impossible outside a Magic Mike Live press night. The show has achieved its end, but I couldn’t manage more than an hour in Bobby’s company.
Awkward Conversations with Animals I’ve F*cked is at the King’s Head Theatre until the 27th April, 2019.
Photograph credit: Simon J. Webb.