It’s a lot of words, I’ll give you that. Monologues are a gargantuan task at the best of times, let alone when the entire production is an hour-long solo effort. So why did I feel so underwhelmed by a nationally-touring, critically-acclaimed production that promised – at the very least – a thought-provoking evening?
The title of Rob Hayes’ Awkward Conversations with Animals I’ve F***ed pretty much gives the game away from the off, so the revelation of protagonist Bobby’s first bed partner as a dog isn’t exactly the punchline that the script hopes it will be. The majority of the jokes fell flat not because of the quality of the punchline, but because the speed at which they were delivered meant that by the time you deciphered what was said, the moment to laugh had passed.
The biggest issue, then, was not the potential awkwardness of the bestiality content, but its delivery – and when the entire production is an hour long solo effort, delivery is vital.
Linus Karp’s Swedish accent was wonderfully charming, and added to Bobby’s eccentricity – Karp himself has said he felt it was right for the role. But it was hard to tell whether the nervous rambling was the character or the actor; whether the stalling was intentional, or if he’d forgotten his lines. For all the rambling, there were distinct moments where silence would have been more valuable. I found myself wanting the exact opposite of whatever was happening at any given moment. There was a distinct sense that overall, the performance needed more variation rather than a constant stream of words.
The final scene was the redeeming feature – which frustratingly only emphasised how good the entire play could have been if it had wanted to. Karp’s intensity poignantly delivered Bobby’s loneliness, and the cleverly simplistic scene shift was a welcome change. The lighting was gorgeous and noticeably interesting, with the gradual dimming making it even more intense – the audience certainly felt the connection that Bobby was so desperately seeking. In all it was a decent climax (pun sort of intended?) but the audience had been aching for it for almost an hour.
It has the potential to be impactful – which is why I come back to the word ‘frustrating’. The BT is small, it’s true, but I’ve laughed and cried and even been involved in productions there myself, so you can’t blame the space. Awkward Conversations is meant to be a commentary on loneliness and toxic masculinity. Instead it felt more a commentary on self-indulgence. Playwright Rob Hayes says he “decided to write a play that would never get put on”, and I almost wish this hadn’t. Is that too harsh?
I will say, however, that it is a universal play. The only unfamiliar element is, well, the bestiality. Remove that, and Bobby is just another twenty-something stumbling through the painfully awkward process of learning about yourself at the same time as learning about other people. It’s just a bildungsroman. It’s just human. Maybe that’s all it needs to be. So I take it back: underwhelming, yes, but maybe just as thought-provoking as I’d hoped.
Guest reviewer: Catrin Haberfield