By Toni Olukiran
Image credit: LUU Theatre Group
LUU Theatre Group takes Nicky Silver’s play to the stage and soars in its ability to toe the line between morbid and hilarious. Considering the extinction of a stereotypically American nuclear family, the play shows how quickly the present can fall apart when reflecting on the past.
From the very beginning of the play, the audience knows that the Duncan family is certifiably a mess. Matriarch Emma is obsessed with the frivolity of high society events while failing to hide a drinking problem and her husband Arthur is seemingly distant in their children’s lives. Their daughter Emma is prone to fits of hypochondria and is worries about her impending wedding to Tommy, the family’s new housemaid. Their Son Todd comes home with the news that he has AIDS and grows obsessed with putting together the bones of a pterodactyl he finds.
Performed in the Alec Clegg Theatre, there is an effective use of the small stage. The audience is plunged into the intimate space of the family’s plush living room, with the staging being one of the highlights of the production. A large skeleton silently dominates the room after the first act, disrupting the façade of respectability that the Duncan family initially exude. As the dinosaur is put together and made whole, the family become more fractured than ever. It is a clear example of how interesting and unique props can validate the quality of a performance, as it ironically brings the set to life. One of the greatest strengths of the play lie in its quick dialogue and pacing, and newcomer Director Alice Keller gets fantastic performances from her actors, who judge the comedic timing perfectly in the darkest of situations. Alice Fox’s performance of Grace was particularly fantastic, as she really embodied the misguided socialite mother. Arthur, played by Toby Oldman, was also incredibly believable; the strength of the acting is reflected by the fact it was easy to forget the parents were being played by students the same age as the rest of the cast. Another great performance was the character of Todd, played by Adam Ben, who was engaging during long monologues and extremely convincing.
Even though Pterodactyls is a play that will be completely unfamiliar to most of the audience, it is easy to understand what is going on. Keller skilfully creates different boundaries on stage, which is no easy feat since there are many moments wherein the characters perform monologues directly to the audience. Through effective lighting and directing, the play succeeds in forming confessional spaces on the stage even while there are characters around and other actions going on in the background.
Ultimately, the play was extremely powerful and darkly funny, which says a lot when trigger warnings consist suicide, sexual abuse, incest, paedophilia and alcoholism. With two more performances on the 13th and 14th of March, it is certainly not one to be missed so be sure to get your tickets quickly.