Watching Animal is a rare theatrical experience. It has such a visceral effect on you that you are left shaken and feeling extremely vulnerable and angry as you walk out. Created by Susie Dee, Kate Sherman and Nicci Wilks, it is an exploration of domestic violence and how women are meant to react in a world where violence against women and male brutishness is celebrated - and it is as gritty as physical theatre can be.
The stage design by Marg Horwell feels like a large shipping container; dark, cold and empty except for a number of small square cages. The two sisters climb and crawl over them, the whole time emoting that they are also caged, desperately looking for a way out. The tattered netting that covers the roof could be seen as protection from the outside but with the many holes in it, it is only a matter of time before it is destroyed.
Composer Kelly Ryall builds a suffocating and unsympathetic environment from the opening moments of the show and it is relentless in drawing you into the sisters' world. There are moments in Animal where you feel like you need to look away as the horror unfolds, but even if you do (which you shouldn't), the sounds are so vivid that they create the visuals for you regardless. There is one moment in particular, where along with Andy Turner's lighting design, the shadows that form along the walls and menacingly envelop the two sisters involves some nail-biting tension and panic.
All these elements work meticulously together to support the two performers on stage. Sherman and Wilks show strong commitment, strength and stamina in their challenging roles. The duality (and also the blending) of playful sisters who depend on and support each other to hyper-aggressive fighters has a complexity that the two are able to authentically create on stage. The need to swap between these "characters" in seconds is not only a physical demand on their bodies but also an emotional and psychological one.
As with SHIT and The Long Pigs, Dee's direction allows for moments that make us laugh, surprise us and haunt us. With a show like Animal, pacing is extremely important and Dee ensures that there are adequate breaks between the truly dark moments of the show, so that by the time we reach the powerful conclusion we are completely engaged with the piece.
While there is no dialogue in Animal, it speaks volumes regarding the impact domestic violence and violence against women can have on women: the violence that they experience and also the violence that it breeds. Compelling, gruelling and masterful work by Influx Theatre, Animal is raw theatre at its finest.
Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Season: Until 27 November | Wed - Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $35 Full | $26 Conc, Under 30, Groups 8+
Bookings: Theatre Works
* Original review appeared on Theatre Press on 21 November 2016.
Photo Credit: Pier Carthew