The top deck of a disused city bus late on a Tuesday night is not where you might expect to find one of the most thoughtful shows I have seen at the Fringe so far, especially considering it's entitled Sex With Animals. Go beyond the provocative title, however, and this brilliant one-person romp through the sexual antics of both man and beast succeeds in combining cerebral comedy with the heartfelt sexual reflection of the show's host, Ryan the Lion.
The self-same Ryan, suited in a tight-fitting lion costume, takes the audience through a plethora of unusual sexual practices, both his own and those of our non-human cousins. What could easily have been a vulgar mess instead proved to be incredibly entertaining, thanks largely to Ryan's swash-bucklingly erudite monologues. Filled with complex puns and esoteric sexual references, Ryan kept up a furious pace throughout. Lose track for a moment and you'll miss some of the better gags.
Things were kept consistently fresh by the range of media Ryan employed over his hour on the bus. His assistant, James, controlled a constantly-changing TV screen picturing the animals the performer happened to be discussing. The filthy antics of the animal kingdom (giraffes taste the urine of prospective mates, who knew?) were also interspersed with vaguely comparable moments from Ryan's own life. A fantastically subversive segment where he told random women on a hook-up website about his childhood dreams had his small audience in raptures.
What elevates Sex With Animals above merely being a hilarious show is the change of pace in its final third. With a pre-recorded voice over providing context, Ryan candidly discusses his polyamorous relationship with two women.
For those who don't know, 'polyamorous' means being open to romantic love with more than one person at a time. Unusual it may be, but Ryan manages to use the surprising non-human practices the show leads with to movingly put his own love life into context. In less intelligent hands, sentimentality of this kind could end up seeming kitsch or awkward. Happily, the show's concluding dream sequence where Ryan imagines the birth of his child, both of the women he loves at his side, is just perfect.
Rarely does a comedy act manage to remain funny while forcing its audience to confront more complex social issues. Sex With Animals is one of those shows and Ryan the Lion should be thoroughly applauded for his efforts. If, by the end, you're still not touched by Ryan's unconventional life choices, at least you'll know which animal can felate itself for pleasure. And that, surely, deserves some credit.