Every Word Was Once An Animal

Alexander Devriendt, Angelo Tijssens, Charles Purcell and the cast
Ontroerend Goed
The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

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Every word was once an animal Credit: Mirjam Devriendt
Aaron J Gordon, Shôn Dale-Jones and Karolien De Bleser Credit: Mirjam Devriendt
Charlotte De Bruyne and Bastiaan Vandendriessche Credit: Mirjam Devriendt

Ontroerend Goed never fails to provoke both thought and discussion. And Every Word Was Once An Animal does exactly that.

Rambling and with repetitive motifs, five personable actors—with Welsh storyteller and former Artistic Director of Hoipolloi Shôn Dale-Jones an unlikely (or perhaps not so unlikely given his alter ego Hugh Hughes) addition to the ranks—explain and confuse, in a perhaps frustrating 55-minutes or so, the mechanics of starting and finishing, identity, truths and curtains.

Cues for knowing when a play is starting—lights down, actor on, microphone adjusted—or finishing—empty stage, lights and applause—are key, as are the curtains, whether that be marching and shimmying to music or choreographed to provide statements and escapes. Artists covet the opening: setting the tone, the pace and stamping their mark, the cast is interchangeable—any one could act out any scene in any order just as jumbled lines can still convey a message.

In a series of direct-to-audience explanations, the relationship between watchers and players is explored and exploited: we have to believe what we are told, names are interchangeable and we know no different, plots can be contrived, time flexed and actors replaced. The cast can be expanded through phone calls, wigs and e-mails or contracted at the whim of the creators as Bob can leave his hole, he and Emma can merge into one or conveniently pair up as age no longer matters and everything can be tinkered with. Pace is controlled while intensity and humour is pliable.

Sleight of hand can obscure and mislead, can fragment trust and risks snapping any connection with the audience; curtains can frame the landscape or hide actors or life from view.

There’s long arms, letters from the future, promised rewrites, onion still life, pandemic isolation and squeaky trolleys but no narrative and, for many, not much to care about.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell