Photo: Piers Foley

We’ve been looking forward to seeing Animal for some time. Written by Jon Bradfield – part of the creative team behind the Above the Stag pantomimes, which we adore – and directed by Bronagh Lagan, who directed Cruise on the West End last year, it tells the story of David, who is gay, disabled and looking for love. He can’t eat, drink or shower by himself, and he’s never been kissed – let alone had sex. Based on a story by Jon Bradfield and Josh Hepple, the show has just opened at London’s Park Theatre, following an acclaimed run at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre.

Animal is a truly special new piece of queer theatre – it’s one of the boldest and most brilliant plays we’ve seen in a long time. It puts disability front and centre – David (Christopher John-Slater) has cerebral palsy; the difficulty he faces with daily activities leads to frustrated, angry outbursts, impacting his friends and family. To help relieve him of his sexual frustrations, his friends suggest he downloads Grindr; what ensues is a tale of 21st century dating. We see moments of pleasure interspersed with sadness, ghosting, and a smattering of quirky characters many of us will have encountered online.

Did we mention it’s absolutely hilarious? Animal is one of the most laugh-out-loud funny shows we’ve seen in a long, long time. In the lead role, Christopher John-Slater has impeccable comic timing; in friend Jill (Amy Loughton) he finds a comic sparring partner. This pair deliver the majority of the show’s wonderful, and frequently absurd or unpredictable, punchlines; though this is an impressive ensemble piece, with the rest of the cast variously playing friends, family and hook ups. We bought into every story; whether we were considering the relationship between a father and his gay son, or a man’s struggles with body dysmorphia, every narrative felt authentic.

We absolutely loved Animal – it’s a brilliantly balanced, layered and nuanced show, in the guise of a hilarious new queer comedy. It shines a light on a complex and under-represented story, and while we regularly felt for David’s frustrations, at no point does the play make excuses for any poor behaviour choices. While living with cerebral palsy may be the focus here, it’s a show that will resonate with anyone who’s experienced the world of modern dating, especially within a community so focused on body image. A truly special piece of theatre – make sure you don’t miss it.

GAY TIMES gives Animal – 5/5

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