Ever seen a couple that you know and wondered why they are together? What it is about the other that is attractive? Human attraction to each other is something that is easy to define semantically – the action or power of evoking interest in or liking for someone or something – but very difficult to explain emotionally. However, when the human in question is attracted to an entirely different species, then that becomes even more difficult to explain away. Yet playwright Rob Hayes attempts to do just that in his one-act play Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve F****d currently playing at the King’s Head Theatre,
The play is the story of Bobby (Linus Karp) a young man who has, when we first meet him, just discovered that making love can be a real pleasure. He is in his bed talking to his partner – who he only met the previous evening – and is trying to learn more about them. The ‘morning after’ conversation is often a difficult one but, in Bobby’s case, the difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that this is his first ever such encounter and his nighttime sexual companion is a dog – the four-legged variety just in case you didn’t guess. Bobby is gentlemanly and tries to make his guest feel at ease but, at the same time, he is genuinely excited that they have stayed over and do not seem too worried about leaving in a hurry. For Bobby, who started the night at a party, where abandoned by his friend, he felt completely out of place, waking up to someone that seemed genuinely pleased to be with him is perfect. As they ‘talk’, Bobby demonstrates what a thoroughly charming, considerate person he is as he does everything he can to put his guest at their ease. In a series of monologues, Bobby takes us with him on his journey onwards from this first encounter. Having dipped his toe into the world of sex with animals, Bobby explores this side of himself more fully, hoping each time to meet that one special ‘white tiger’ that will give him the love and affection that he has for them.
I first saw Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve F****d back in 2017 and, since then, it has had a highly successful run at the Edinburgh Festival before returning to London once more. I have also downloaded the playtext and read it a few times so feel that I know Bobby pretty well. And this is where things get interesting. Michael, my companion to the show, and I had a lengthy discussion afterwards about Awkward Conversations. Michael had not seen the show before and started by wanting to know why the author had wanted to write a play about bestiality. We then went on to discuss ‘consent’ and the ramifications of that word in the context of the play. If we hadn’t had to part for our separate trains, I think we could still be discussing Bobby and his actions now. For my part, I think Rob Hayes has created a fascinating character in Bobby and it is very foolish to take him just at face value. Bobby is intelligent, self-aware – possibly too much – and in many respects the result of his father’s relationship with him growing up. There is virtually no mention of his mother but, even though he is not really around anymore, Bobby’s father is obviously a major influence on him as a man. His need to be with animals is, to some extent, understandable. Bobby is a man that does not work well with other humans and finds it easier to interact with animals. That he takes this interaction to a wholly unnatural and illegal end is wrong and a real shame. If Bobby could only interact with humans the way he does with animals, he would probably have a really good life. For such a serious subject, the writing has a lot of humour in it which stops it from being too intense and gives the audience a chance to get to know their protagonist.
Linus Karp really does seem to know and understand Bobby as a person and finds those elements of his personality that make Bobby less a figure to be despised and more one to be pitied and helped. Linus’ timing is brilliant as is his characterisation and this really comes to the fore in the second monologue, where Bobby is trying to be very flirty. Unfortunately, Bobby is too awkward to flirt or be coquettish but is not aware of the fact, something Linus demonstrates beautifully. There is an intensity to the performance, particularly in the passages where we learn some of Bobby’s back story, and at times Linus’ voice drops to something just above a whisper that ensures everyone is hanging on to his every word.
Katherine Armitage directs with aplomb and, quite bravely to my mind, allows long awkward silences – together with Bobby’s pained expression – to speak volumes at times. One other point on the production side for me. I was really impressed that all of the sounds came from the right parts of the theatre. Bobby’s phone sounded from the bed, the neighbour walked up the path and knocked on the door on the correct side, the police sirens were where they should be. It’s only a small thing but having sounds appear where they are meant to be, greatly adds to the realism so congratulations on that score.
Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve F****d is not an easy play to watch. The subject matter is highly controversial – mental illness, loneliness and bestiality are not natural bedfellows – and guaranteed to cause deep discussion amongst those that see it. Ultimately, it is a fascinating play – with a wonderfully ambiguous ending – that should be something we turn away from in disgust but instead, provides an hour of highly polished writing and acting that deliver a brilliant, if slightly unsettling, show.
Review by Terry Eastham
Following sell-out shows at Edinburgh Fringe, Awkward Productions present their critically acclaimed production of Rob Hayes’ dark comedy about love, acceptance and boundaries.
One-night stands are awkward. One-night stands with animals are even more awkward. And when you’re as desperate for love as Bobby is, things are bound to get as awkward as f*ck.
12th to 27th April 2019