Pterodactyls, written by Nicky Silver, was the most absurd piece of theatre I have seen in quite some time. Theatre Group’s talented cast of five delivered the dark comedy’s problematic themes with great maturity and comedic timing, bringing light to the harrowing occurrences of this play.
Alice Fox, Emily Raven-Baker, Adam Ben, Tiago Ventura and Toby Oldham made up the Duncan family, who have a plethora of struggles and secrets. With every character being strikingly different, each actor expressed thoughtful and over-the-top characterisation that was perfectly executed and maintained throughout the high-energy performance.
Adam Ben, playing Todd, began the play with an intimate monologue that demonstrated his impressive storytelling abilities. This was aided by the cold, blue lighting and projections behind him. Alice Fox, playing Grace, carried the performance as the drunken matriarchal prowess. She very clearly demonstrated the tragic consequences that occur when alcohol is used to escape a troubled life. Her comedic adlibs highlighted her acting capabilities, and her feisty drunkenness beautifully contrasted her vulnerable breakdowns as a self-destructive, regretful mother.
I found Emily Raven-Baker’s execution of Emma captivating. She expertly encapsulated the naivety, vulnerability and confusion of an insane hypochondriac with a shattered childhood. Her role was a difficult one to master, yet she utilised a high level of emotional sensitivity to explore her character’s repressed memories of sexual abuse. Ben’s depiction of a HIV sufferer, and his comedic approach to the disease, was peculiar yet fascinating to watch. Tiago Ventura provided the much-needed comedic relief, and was greeted by ecstatic laughter from the audience. He stole the audience’s attention whenever he entered the stage, encapsulating the absurdist tone of the performance. A direct contrast to this joyous character was Toby Oldham’s depiction of Arthur, which he conveyed hauntingly. Yelps of outrage coursed through the audience when his character’s true intentions with his daughter were unveiled, demonstrating just how great he was at playing the villain.
The simple, yet aesthetic, set consisted of a humblingly mundane lounge area, illustrating that tumultuous events can occur behind closed doors, and where we least expect it. Throughout the play, I particularly enjoyed the close proxemics of audience and actor; I felt that the personal interjections from each character helped the audience to really penetrate the inner workings of this incongruous family, uncovering the dark secrets that had been grossly repressed.
My only critique of this production is the position of the model dinosaur. I think that bringing it further downstage would have imprinted the play’s metaphor into the audience’s mind a little more, whilst ensuring a balance between everything happening on stage.
Whilst not being the easiest of viewings, or coherent of stories, Pterodactyls was an aggressive romp on the senses that sent ripples of disgust, laughter and sorrow through the audience. I give my commendations to the director, Alice Kellar, and her assistant director, Zoe Frechin-Pollard, for directing such high-energy and highly-layered characters.
Bravo, Pterodactyls cast and crew!
Words by Hannah Rooney