Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸
If you aren’t planning on catching Lily Bevan’s Zoo at VAULT Festival this week, what are you doing? Bevan’s smash-hit play is running until Sunday and is quite simply sensational. Full of depth, heart, intelligence and comedic wonderment, it’s a must see!
Having ran previously at Assembly in Edinburgh and Theatre 503 to great critical acclaim, Zoo has now been published by Nick Hern Books and is a bittersweet, tragicomedy about friendship, courage and flamingos. Set in both Miami and Yorkshire, the narrative harmonically follows two close female friends, Bonnie, who works at Cherokee Valley Zoo and Carol who devotes her time to bat conservation in the Yorkshire Dales, the pair, despite living thousands of miles apart, care greatly for each other. Making Zoo, a timeless story of love and friendship. We watch how they navigate their passion for animals, alongside the troublesome men prevalent in their lives. Animals proving to be much easier for them to cope with, an engaging counter-balance to their pair’s mild disdain for human connection.
Zoo therefore, eloquently traverses the female experience with immaculate wit and charm, meaningfully and affectingly touching upon strong topics such as domestic abuse, divorce, single parenthood and gender discrimination/misogyny. When a hurricane heads straight for Miami, Bonnie rushes to keep her animals safe. Across the world in Yorkshire, Carol feels the repercussions. From Carol’s pantomathic knowledge of bats and fear that cavers will disturb them, to Bonnie’s resistance in leaving her animals alone in the storm, Bevan dutifully captures absolute passion, love, loyalty, commitment and solicitude, as well as a creating dialogue about humanity’s relationship to the natural world. Demonstrating the lengths people will go to in order to save what they love and depicting how split-decisions in a crisis can shape one’s destiny. Meaning Zoo is not only a tender tale of sisterhood set to the back drop of animal facts and raucous comedy, but a turbulent play about change, both in the climate sense as the storms hit much harder than expected and in the female characters, Carol for instance is forced to find friendship in those around her and reform a relationship with her son, she is therefore, tentatively rejoining the human world with help from Bonnie. Opening up an intriguing discourse on purpose, legacy, spirituality and the concept of a life well lived.
However, Zoo has even more going for it than its clever, complex and hilarious writing. Bevan and Hamish MacDougall’s vibrant direction brings to life both Carol’s bountiful Yorkshire and Bonnie’s cherished Cherokee Valley Zoo. Bonnie therefore resides in Miami on the left, whilst Carol remains on the right in Yorkshire, the pair meeting in the middle when reminiscing about their first meeting at Chester Zoo or Carol’s recent trip to visit Bonnie. This physical representation of their locative distance being wonderfully envisioned by designer Erica Greenshields. Cherokee is brought to life by a neatly painted zoo sign and a series of cages moved around by Bonnie and to be used to safely house the animals, with precautionate sand bags surrounding the perimeter of the stage. Whilst Yorkshire is bare and less colourful, a reflection of the dark caves Carol spends her time studying bats in, the prevalent zoo sign later flipping to reveal a sign for Yorkshire instead, demonstrating the focus switching to Carol. Furthermore, the bench centre stage upon which we see Bonnie and Carol meet for the first time, is later and strikingly used by Carol alone, as she debates her next cause of action. Symbiotically, Tom Clutterbuck’s lighting and Mike Winship’s sound do much to artfully complement and embellish the locative nature of the work and its direction. Regarding performances, Bevan is a comedic tour de force, her Bonnie is impassioned, witty, instantaneously likeable and good-natured. Bevan is not only expressive and vivacious, her delivery is also smart and committed, Bevan knows exactly when to play to her audience. Whilst Lorna Beckett’s Carol is tough, determined and resilient, despite the harder, more reserved nature of the character, Beckett toys with the part and takes every opportunity for comedic relief, she like Bevan, is an effortless and smart storyteller.
Performed by Lily Bevan (Bonnie Young) and Lorna Beckett (Carol Alsop)
Co-directed by Hamish MacDougall and Lily Bevan
Assistant Producer Alice Robinson
Production Assistant Sophia Tuffin
Designer Erica Greenshields
Sound Design by Mike Winship
Lighting Design by Tom Clutterbuck
Technical Stage Manager Eleanor Theodorou