DramaSoc turns into an animal-loving society this weekend!

       Douglas Maxwell’s play, Mancub – adapted from the book, The Flight of the Cassowary by John LeVert – tells the story of Paul (Will Heyes), an adolescent boy who is struggling with the familiar perils of youth: girls, parents, and school. But Paul is also an animal enthusiast, to the alarming degree that he begins to develop animal characteristics, and is soon set on his belief that he can transform into different animals on his choosing.

       The animalistic imagery was present from the very beginning – no sooner had the lights dimmed than Heyes addressed the audience while climbing down a ladder from the ceiling in a monkey-like fashion. The other two cast members were Elizabeth Cooke and Joel Bates, who played a variety of characters by using the multiple props and costume items placed by  the stage This was an insightful method of showing how a simple change of prop can define each character. For the duration of the performance, nonetheless, the three cast members were dressed in Tarzanian loincloths. Both Cooke and Bates managed to dexterously juggle all of these supporting characters between them in a way that was almost imperceptible. At one point Cooke’s transition from the character of ‘Gran’ to ‘Karen’ was so smooth that one could have forgotten it was the same actress. Cooke’s facial expressiveness was the defining feature of each character she performed. Her transitions between different expressions were so seamless that there didn’t even appear to be a pause in between transitions. Many of Cooke’s lines were also humorous, and often had the audience laughing. With her skilled use of facial expressions and timing, Cooke delivered an exceptional performance.

The character of Paul’s psychological condition was also very reminiscent of Christopher’s suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome

       Meanwhile, all of this took pace in a set that had been transformed almost into something of a magical haven. Fairy lights twinkled from the canopy of trees which decorating the ceiling, and leaves had been scattered underfoot in a realistic arrangement. A thick tree stump occupied the space close to the audience, and the simple act of stepping around the obstacle to get to our seats meant we were already involved in the natural wonderland before the play had begun.

       The lighting also complemented this environment perfectly. Beams of bright silver indicated moonlight, and the intensity of lighting could go from being subtle to overwhelming in the more dramatic scenes. Throughout the show, the lighting was very dynamic, often indicating either a change in topic or a change of characters. The play made no use of blackouts,  and the characters soon became associated with certain lighting patterns, almost like a musical leitmotifs. The lighting could also signal a break in Heyes’ speech, denoting a change in his thought process. Indeed, Heyes faultlessly narrated the entire performance, and his character was not altogether dissimilar to the character of Christopher in Mark Haddon’s 2003 book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The character of Paul’s psychological condition was also very reminiscent of Christopher’s suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, although Mancub never explicitly makes it clear whether Paul indeed lies anywhere on the spectrum.

Photo by Gavin Pattison
Photo by Gavin Pattison

 It is rare for a creative performance to be considered flawless, but the Drama Barn’s rendition of Mancub merits to sit in that rank

       The use of sound throughout the play was quite minimal, and in fact compelled the audience to focus more on what Paul was thinking and saying. When sound did appear, it was typically in more dramatic moments such as the fight scenes, which enhanced the experience considerably. In these moments, both light and sound were combined to create a suspense whose intensity had the audience visibly on the edge of its seat.

       In performing Paul, Heyes made use the space effectively, all the way from  grand gestures in the sport matches, to the finite precision of when Paul’s transformation into a fly. Another small, yet captivating moment occurred when Paul was focussing on a rat weaving its way between himself and his father. Heyes concentrated on the rodent’s movement so carefully, that even after the rat had disappeared, I was still searching in the distance for some sign of him.  Heyes successfully suspended the audience’s disbelief in making us believe he could truly metamorphose into animals. Paul’s impersonations invited so much empathy that I found his human moments slightly bizarre. I kept having to remind myself that despite Heyes’ incredibly realistic rhinoceros impressions, Paul was, in fact, still just a boy.

       It is rare for a creative performance to be considered flawless, but the Drama Barn’s rendition of Mancub merits to sit in that rank. Director Harry Ward has most likely outdone himself in the direction of this fascinating story, and the quality of the acting was outstanding and undoubtedly professional. The play deserves even more than one viewing, and I will try very hard to come back and watch again before the weekend is over. We might not know if Paul can in fact turn into animals, but Mancub could certainly make you believe it were possible.

*Mancub is running from 23rd-25th October, at the Drama Barn, University of York.

Tickets available via YUSU or on the door.