Lion and Unicorn Theatre – until 29 November. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
The morning after a one-night stand can be excruciating at the best of times, but at least with humans those awkward conversations are (hopefully) two-way streets. So, watching Bobby (Linus Karp) attempt to bond with his four-legged friends is painfully funny.
If you’d asked me if I’d warm to a character who was attracted to animals before seeing this play, I’d have scoffed, but Rob Hayes’ script is so sensitive and unsensational, and Maddie Rice’s direction so sympathetic, that poor Bobby’s neediness becomes (almost) understandable. Bestiality is disgusting, but you can’t help but like Bobby – he is just looking for love in all the wrong (VERY WRONG) places.
Working his way through a dog, cat, goat, monkey and bear, Bobby’s reactions in the afterglow are exactly as you’d expect if there was a human in his bed. He plans their future, apologises for any comments that could be misconstrued as sexist (speciesist?) and anthropomorphises their imagined responses. Just as you begin to feel comfortable, a stark reminder of the species is thrown in – eliciting belly laughs and squirms alike. The scene with the monkey prostitute is especially well written, with Bobby imagining a grooming story for the creature that is in turns hysterical and horrifyingly familiar.
Linus Karp gives Bobby a pathetically defiant edge, and is wonderful in the moments when he thinks he has offended an animal. His body language when making gauche compliments is simply adorable. As Bobby’s past is gradually revealed, Karp becomes more and more fragile, until the final scene where the laughs dry up and the dark sadness that drives Bobby’s life is portrayed with understated but devastating skill.
Awkward Conversations is a warm and wonderful surprise. I wasn’t expecting to be moved by or empathise with a bloke I wouldn’t trust with my guinea pig, but Bobby’s story is charming, funny and entertaining.