Manimals – Greenwich Theatre

Writen by Michelle Hudson

Directed by Flo O’Mahony

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dating sucks. It sucks at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. The intricacies of figuring out what the other person really wants, and if that’s even them in the picture sum the experience most of us have with online and app-based dating. But hey, for better or worse, quite often there’s a cute animal in the picture, that’s something, right? Well, for Michelle life has gone from hardness to worse, and now she is determined to even the playing field of dating while bringing a spark of joy and energy to the scene with a spanking-new app to find that special someone with Manimals.

This energy is carried by Michelle Hudson, even with the-less-than-eager volunteers and playmates, because oh yes – audience participation is a requirement for this workshop. Manimals runs a game format throughout, with a points-based system. Those unable or unwilling to partake will enjoy the production just as equally, but getting your teeth sunk into the mayhem and occasionally poetic moments are recommended. This could be as an agony aunt offering advice, to a (un)lucky first date or even a best friend aiding Hudson as she trudges through dates, encounters the dangers of dick-pics on chat roulette, and gradually comes to confront the experiences she has had with previous partners and their veiled abusive ways.

Both the lead creative and sole performer, Hudson creates Manimals with a certain degree of venting. She equally controls the show as she becomes lost within it, being as much a member of the Manimal ‘workshop’ as the rest of us. There’s an evident passion for the project, and much time is taken to ensure things run remarkably smoothly. Pre-recorded segments, ‘glitching’ effects and both a tight grasp of humour and drama, Manimals needs only shave a few minutes towards the end to have an even more significant impact.

But there’s a sincerity at the heart of Manimals, and an underlying adoration for spoken word, song and performance which goes beyond the obvious NSFW material and gags. A discussion on the difficulties of progression and being yourself; because just why the hell do we masquerade our insecurities with animals? Why do we use cute or exotic creatures in our profile pictures, is it a personality buffer? A metaphor? Or is game-designer and theatre artist Hudson tapping into something…

Every so often the workshop is interrupted by Mikey, an ever-felt presence only seen once in a very quick snippet. There’s both an annoyance and fear when Michelle discusses Mikey, hinting at a deeper connection. Even small touches, such as Michelle’s ‘swipe right’ animal being an Orangutan, rather than the Whale she preaches, might explain the difficulties in moving past the ginger-moustached Mikey.

The incorporation of gimmicks, especially applications, has increased in frequency since the shift to digital productions. Traditionally, it’s been choppy or passed off to a graphical intern and is less an established transmedia, and more a distraction. Game dramaturg and designer Amy Strike, however, ties the dating app into the sequence breaks and transitions. Unflatteringly lampooning Tinder, the swiping mechanics turn into a digital game, principally used whenever Hudson requires a scene transition or bathroom break. The application plays a large role in the skeletal understanding of the influence, and details behind the production’s comedy, and if anything, should have utilised more than the Zoom breakout rooms which come across as awkward, stilting momentum.

As an interactive experiment, Hudson’s Manimals plays directly into the digital medium of theatre and film. Though there is a distinctly festival and stage feel to the production, the camera work and editing provide enough to maintain attention for home audiences. Where Manimals excels is the synergy between performance, application, and audience interaction, vastly succeeding where others falter.

Runs here until 14 February 2021

Review published for The Reviews Hub

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