Cavern at The Vaults, Leake Street Tunnels, Waterloo.
25 Feb-1 Mar, 7.50pm.
Written by Lily Bevan, directed by Hamish MacDougall and Lily Bevan. Produced by Anteater. Performed by Lily Bevan and Lorna Beckett.
“A play about climate change both in the weather and in the discussion of the female experience, our relationships to the natural world, and perceptions of a life well lived”.
Lily Bevan’s Zoo has already enjoyed runs at the Edinburgh Fringe and at London’s Theatre503, so it arrives at the Vault Festival garlanded with plenty of praise.
Bonnie (Bevan) is a zookeeper in the US, and she’s helping move the animals to safety as a hurricane is on the way. She’s bubbly, bright and full of facts about the creatures in her care. She’s been passed over for promotion in favour of a British smoothie, but she’s still optimistic, and she’s filming the prep for the storm for the TV news.
Her friend Carol (Lorna Beckett) is an expert on bats in North Yorkshire. Pragmatic, blunt and no-nonsense, we meet her giving an educational class on the flying mammals she cares for. She’s feisty but under the surface there’s a sliver of fun which got hidden when her husband left her.
There’s is a firm friendship across the miles, and Bevan’s play gives equal weight to each woman’s preoccupations, going back to show them meeting in the UK then again in Orlando, where a nonplussed Carol receives Bonnie’s gift of a “fanny pack” (what we Brits call a “bum bag”) and they form a bond.
The Vaults provide a stunning use of space and atmosphere for scenes set during the storm and in the Yorkshire bat caves. The Cavern is a long, damp space with a spooky feel which benefits from this show’s wonderful sound design from Mike Winship and lighting design by Tom Clutterbuck.
Inspired by a true story – flamingoes sheltering in the men’s urinals at Florida Zoo – Zoo develops into a fresh and vibrant story of female friendship, love of animals, family, rememberance, and much more.
From Arthur the ailing anteater to the iguana who just appears out of nowhere, we watch as the text and minimal props in Erica Greenshields’s design conjure up the inhabitants of both Bonnie’s zoo and Carol’s caves.
Hamish MacDougall and Lily Bevan co-direct with a good eye for the use of the long but narrow performance area. There are separate areas for Bonnie and Carol’s solo scenes, with the middle used for the scenes with them both.
I enjoyed both performances a lot – Bevan and Beckett are solid character players and have a gift for both comedy and pathos. Beckett also catches the Yorkshire accent perfectly. The men in the play are reported second-hand: slimy Ian the otter man, Bill with his sexist jokes, Andrew the caver, the friendly newsagent, the game-playing teenage son.
Judgement: Wow, Meow, or Furred Brow?
It’s a Wow for Zoo. It packs a lot into an hour’s running time and its characters step on stage fully formed. Despite some sad moments, I found it very enjoyable and techmically brilliant.
LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see Zoo.