The confrontational and thought-provoking production of Human Animals is in full swing in the Nottingham New Theatre, the only theatre exclusively run by students in England. A dystopian projection of the human destruction of the environment, set in contemporary London.
“As the sinister world escalates around them, the six characters try to make sense of the developments”
With a small cast of six actors, the play centres around the interactions of a young heterosexual couple, a mother and daughter, and two men meeting in the pub. Within the play, a disease has broken out amongst urban animals, and the government begin to kill foxes and pigeons, and eventually cats, dogs, zoo animals and birds in a desperate attempt to control the situation. In an unsettlingly plausible development, roadblocks are put up, curfews established, and parks and even people’s homes are burnt down in the name of ‘the greater good’, in a bid to control public hysteria. As the sinister world escalates around them, the six characters try to make sense of the developments, resulting in the deterioration of relationships, mental health and sense of identity in each perspective.
“The dystopian atmosphere of the play is immediately established”
The dystopian atmosphere of the play is immediately established at the very beginning, through a robotic and unsettling announcement that breaks the fourth wall, forcing the audience to split into different seating areas to acknowledge each other directly. The structure of the play sometimes involves all six actors on stage, with up to five frozen in tableau while the other speaks their lines, highlighting the simultaneous and competing needs of human and the environment, and the importance of prioritising environmental concerns in a demanding human world.
“It is too easy for an individual to ignore their responsibility”
Between each scene, as one pair of actors finished speaking and another began, the shockingly loud transition music acted to jolt the audience into recognition of the significance of what they were watching, and the following seconds of thought-provoking silence meant that every audience member was engaged in an active process of reflection.
To further enforce this, the action was disrupted in some scenes by the actors confronting the audience with torches and shouting discourse around climate change, highlighting the impression of ‘mob mentality’ around environmental issues – it is too easy for an individual to ignore their responsibility within the chaotic context of protests and media coverage. Furthermore, the settings of homes, pubs, and workplace were placed entirely on a bed of sand, acting as a reminder of the essentially primal nature of humans, and the responsibility we have to respect the habitat of animals. As the plot escalated, the characters degenerated from sofas and tables to the floor, suggesting a need to return to a time when humans and animals cohabited peacefully and fairly in the world.
“The play demonstrates the numbed, ignorant habits of humans”
The disturbing and provocative experience left the audience with a deep feeling of responsibility for their actions; the characters whom were caught up in social and personal matters were the last to recognise the atrocities taking place in the world. As the world increasingly resembled a zoo enclosure, holding humans captive alongside animals, it was emphasised that humans are capable of getting used to anything, drawing parallels with the daily slaughter of animals for human diets. By directly confronting the audience and portraying the plausibility of a dystopian world in the near-future, the play demonstrates the numbed, ignorant habits of humans and encourages daily action towards a brighter, safer, cleaner future.
Featured Image courtesy of Nottingham New Theatre Official Facebook Page.