Animal by Jon Bradfield. Park 200, 13 Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 to 20 May 2023. 5*****. William Russell.

David has cerebral palsy. He is 25, housebound, has friends who care and a full time carer. He is intelligent, angry, and horny as hell. One day he is introduced to Grindr and his world opens up. The play, based on a story by Jon Bradfield and Josh Hepple, opened to acclaim at the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester, and has now arrived in London to equal acclaim. It is funny, sad, illuminating and beautifully performed. Christopher John-Slater, who has cerebral palsy but is not wheelchair bound like David, gives a tremendous performance as a young man raging against the hand life has dealt him and looking for – and just possibly finding as well as the one time stands – someone to love. It is a breathtaking moment when at the end of the evening he gets up from his chair, takes his bow and walks off stage with the other players. David is not particularly nice, has a temper, and exploits his friends who care for him. He can’t eat, drink or shower without assistance. But as far as Grindr is concerned he has assets. He is good looking and has a lot to offer which he has to get one of his early customers to photograph. Faces are not what many Grindr users are looking for.

Be prepared for some pretty explicit sexual encounters but they are part of David’s story, not gratuitous insertions into it. Mostly they are one off visitors all played by William Oxborrow, but then there is Liam, played by Joshua Libard who has problems of his own but does return and might just keep on doing so. Meanwhile David’s best friend Julie, done with great charm and wit by Amy Loughton, frets about what is to become of him and gets very annoyed by his behaviour when he manages to interest the man in her life – it looks like a breakdown in their friendship and one worries for them both. Oxborrow, as well as playing the various Grindr acquaintances who come once, so to speak, also plays David’s father who would take him back to stay in the family home but that deprives David of what he treasures most – although dependent on others he is independent. Harry Singh and Matt Ayleigh play the men who provide care and again the performances are to relish.

Bradfield treads a delicate line so that a play which could have been depressing in the extreme becomes life affirming. David was imprisoned with it appeared no chance of escape. By the end he might just have managed it.

David – Christopher John-Slater. Jill – Amy Loughton. Derek/Nuno -Matt Ayleigh. Mani/Michael – Harry Singh. Liam – Joshua Libird. Rob/Ray/Alan/Dad – William Oxborrow.

Director – Bronagh Lagan. Set & Costume Designer – Gregor Donnelly. Lighting Designer – Derek Anderson. Video Designer – Matt Powell. Sound Designer – Julian Starr. Movement Director -Teenie Macleod. Intimacy Director -Robbie Taylor Hunt. Production photographs – Piers Foley.

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