Mammals

Amelia Bullmore
Bush Theatre production
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2006)

The cast of Mammals

The play opens on a scene of chaotic domesticity. Toys litter the floor – and every other available space – and the sink is overflowing with unwashed dishes. Amid the disorder harassed mother Jane (Niamh Cusack) is desperately trying to get breakfast into her two young children, and get them dressed for school, while trying to explain death to the youngest and ‘hairy fannies’ to the other. Into the scene walks husband Kev (Daniel Ryan) , home early from a business trip, to announce that he has fallen in love with a work colleague. Jane is ready to explode, and can you blame her.

Amelia Bullmore’s debut play, however, is not a feminist tirade, although Jane is resentful of the fact that she is trapped at home and ‘hasn’t read a book for five years’. The story really concerns the fact that we are all mammals and have basic urges which need to be fulfilled, but “one of the perks of being a human type of mammal is consciousness”. We have the power to exercise control if only we have the will to do so. Also – is monogamy the natural order of things? It is so easy to be attracted to another, and hard to resist the temptation. Serious subjects here, and we can all empathise with the tensions and frustrations, but the play is so brilliantly written and with such acute observation, wit and humour that we laugh more often than cry.

Into the now turbulent scene – amid a ‘heated discussion’ – walks Kev’s best friend Phil (Mark Bonnar) with his latest girl friend, fashionable, high maintenance ‘anglepoise lamp’ Lorna (Anna Chancellor) and – amid numerous entrances and exits – it transpires that Jane once held a torch for Phil, a revelation to Kev. He had stated that he still loved Jane and didn’t want to leave her. Love is not finite and there is room for two – haven’t they always said they would have no secrets! Being confronted with his wife’s admitted temptation give him food for thought, and when it is discovered that friend Phil was similarly tempted he is astounded and feels betrayed, even though both of them had controlled their urges which eventually subsided.

The children here are played by two full size adults (Jane Hazlegrove and Helena Lymbery) and, after the initial surprise, this works extremely well, both girls having the petulance, short attention span, and a belief that they own the house and the parents merely live there, and both actresses have the characteristics and behaviour of young children to perfection .and incidentally take up a lot of room, which even the smallest children seem to do. “I’m in charge” shouts a frustrated Jane – she so obviously isn’t!

Six year old Betty has discovered that it feels good to rub herself against the corner of the kitchen table primeval urges begin at a tender age, and younger sister Jess is preoccupied with the thought of death and what comes afterwards. All the ‘difficult’ questions are asked and answered to the best of Jane’s ability – we’ve all been there!

It was three years of writing and alterations before actress Amelia Bullmore was satisfied with her play and she has picked up accurately every nuance of domestic realism. I, and I suspect most of the audience, could identify with all the chaos, resentments and frustrations, but also with the concern and care that children expect and receive by right. That at least we have in common with almost all other mammals.

Brilliantly written, superbly performed and directed at a cracking pace which kept the rapt attention of the capacity audience. I look forward to the next play – maybe in another three years!

This review first appeared in Theatreworld Internet Magazine.

Philip Fisher reviewed the original production at the Bush

Reviewer: Sheila Connor