Circa Theatre
August 2-30 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

Mammals takes a glimpse at the most ordinary but also unusual social grouping of the human species – the middle class family. Jane and Kev Hammersby have a comfortable home on the outskirts of London and 2 daughters, Jess and Betty. He works while she stays at home to care for the girls. But their seemingly happy marriage is about to be rocked and Jane in particular will be forced to re-examine the choices that have led to her current life.

The play begins with Jane preparing Jess and Betty for school. Mel Dodge plays Jane with a frantic but desperately-trying-to-keep-her-cool edge that drew both laughs and sympathy. The extent of her dissatisfaction and frustration with her stay at home Mum role is hinted at from the beginning as she grapples with her two wilful daughters. Jane Waddell as six-year-old Jess and Michelle Amas as four-year-old Betty nearly steal the show with their evocation as boisterous and competitive siblings. Jane finally gets them bundled off to school when Kev arrives home with a revelation – he’s fallen in love with his colleague. Although he insists nothing has ‘happened’ yet and that he still loves his family, the news devastates Jane. Before she can digest it fully Phil Denholm (Jason Whyte), one of Kev’s oldest friends arrives from Scotland, with his glamorous girlfriend, Lorna (Jessica Robinson) in tow. The children get added to the mix and Jane and Kev try to discuss the future of their marriage whilst trying to stay out of earshot of the girls and their guests. Phil finds out and then the tries to determine the implications of Kev’s emotional infidelity with Jane. The plot gets further tangled when Jane makes some revelations of her own which threaten the strength of all the adult relationships in the play.

The play oscillates between comedy, largely provided by the portrayal of children by adult actors and the efforts of parents to hide things from their children, and relationship drama. Although Bullmore wanted the play to swing sharply from the farcical to the tragic it sometimes feels a little contrived. As the bickering of the adults increases, they begin to look increasingly juvenile beside the children. An extreme event near the end of the play brings their problems back into perspective and provides a much needed jolt to the plot, which has begin to feel slightly stale and circular. It is a credit to the four actors playing the adults that they are able to elicit genuine sympathy from characters that are not particularly likeable. Their issues are not entirely resolved by the play’s conclusion, but it would have been forced to try to and reduced the complexity of the human relationships which the play captures.

Although detailed, the characters don’t go beyond caricature to any deeper resonance. In terms of themes they are reasonably overt – guilt, honesty, responsibility, the compulsion to tell are all present and are often given humourous reflection in the actions of the children. The actors are assisted by the realistic set, costume and lighting design. Despite the excellence of the performances I doubt whether this play would have given many in the audience much provocation to think about their own domestic relationship after they left the theatre.