Don't Feed the Lions
Devised and performed by Zecora Ura Theatre
Rose Bruford College, Sidcup, Kent
With the title Don't Feed the Lions you'd be forgiven for thinking that this production is set in a zoo, but remember, this is Zecora Ura, well known for its zany locations! A while back, performances took place on Connex South-East trains (Sidcup to London and return); this one is set in a Gents' Toilet on the college campus.
The show begins as director Jorge Lopes Ramos, speaking Portuguese, greets the necessarily small audience, offers them a drink from a tray, then ushers them politely towards the entrance to the performance space. The smiling and semi-embarrassed audience, sipping their drinks, encounter a sign on the door flashing "Do Not Enter". Despite this, they are invited to go in. It's dark inside; a tap can be heard dripping. Gradually, accustoming their eyes to the dark, they see a sign: "Don't Feed the Lions".
Music plays ("When I'm 64"), and there is the sound of a whirring hand drier. A light flashes on and off. There is a man in drag (Alfonso Rodriguez) in a white blouse, white tights and knickers, huddled and gesticulating like an animal in a zoo. There is a knocking sound. The outline of a window is visible. Another man in drag (Will Hudson) becomes visible, also wearing blouse, tights and knickers. There are bloody scratch marks on his face and on his blouse, which is torn at the back as if by an animal's claws. He uses exaggerated facial expressions and melodramatic body language, and calls for "Gerald!" He (evidently playing a woman) is rebuking the unseen Gerald for taking 'her' orgasm pills. The lines are a mixture of cliché and absurdity: "I can't have babies -- only lions". Then purely cliché: "I need to be alone for a while", "It's been one of those days", "You know me better than I know myself", "I always loved your tea". A woman's face (Eleanor Bernardes as the Toilet Manager) can now be seen in profile through an orange-lit window, eating a banana.
Are you still with me? All of this was compelling and hypnotic -- waiting for the next line, wondering what's going to happen next, wondering what it all means, listening with bated breath in the hope or despair of discovering some meaning. But Absurdity with a capital A is the key word with Zecora Ura, so 'meaning' in the conventional sense of the word is beside the point (the point being that there isn't a point).
Anyway, that's enough philosophical diversion: let's get back to the show. A pair of yellow plastic washing-up gloves hangs on each of the two cubicle doors - the men in drag now rip the gloves off the doors and put them on, looking at first like surgeons or crime investigators putting on surgical gloves, then playing around for a while, flicking and snapping at the rubber. They have moved away from the cubicle doors and are now standing by the urinals, which have flowers sprouting out of them. Suddenly we see there are flashing lights in their crotches. They run on the spot, turn their backs, one of them recites a Raymond Chandler-style narrative, and we hear another song: Elvis's "Blue Suede Shoes". There was perhaps 2-3 minutes' too much material at this point - the tension seemed to sag a little, there was less sense of compulsion, and I felt my concentration flagging.
Then another change, another song: "This is a man's world", and the two guys in drag transform themselves into a stereotypical long-married bickering couple, the conversation full of deliberate clichés as before: "Do you love me, or are you in love with me?". Their argument over, the 'husband' goes into a cubicle, and the 'wife' follows suggestively for the usual form of reconciliation.
Surprise surprise, the other cubicle door opens - has someone been in there all this time? Who ever can it be? Ah, it's Jorge again, and the surrealism is broken, for he is playing the role of an ordinary bloke in a men's toilet. As he moves to the basin to wash his hands, he looks round in disdainful surprise at the group of people, male and female, standing there watching him. With poker face he comes towards them, his eyes averted in true English manner, says "excuse me", edges past them and leaves. After a few seconds the audience realise this must be the end of the show, there is applause, and the two guys in drag come out of their cubicle to bow - of course bowing to the audience at the end of a show is a longstanding convention in the theatre, but in this absurdist-surrealist context it seemed a bit too conventional.
All in all, this is a compelling show which could tour the world and never have difficulty finding a venue. I'm just wondering where Zecora Ura will choose to perform next!
Reviewer: Gill Stoker