Zoo is a play which touches upon awkward social contracts between people, and the total indifference of the natural world. It opens with an impending event: a hurricane is about to strike a Miami zoo. Zookeeper Bonnie (played by Lily Bevan), races against the elements to ensure as many animals as possible can be rehomed and saved. Flamingos are led into urinals, flying squirrels are placed into cages, and an unwell anteater is molly-coddled into a protective box.
Zoo carefully lays an emotional beartrap
Bevan wrote, stars in, and co – directs this two-hander, which also stars Lorna Beckett as Carol, a North Yorkshire bat conservation enthusiast. As the play bounces between Miami and the Yorkshire Dales, the histories of Bonnie and Carol are exposed. Both characters are now fiercely independent, but their histories imply a time where this was not the case – this is one of the primary thematic focuses of Bevan’s play.
Zoo carefully lays an emotional beartrap, which is sprung about halfway through the show, and once again towards the end. The opening of the play seems to set the tone of the entire thing: a light – hearted piece, replete with animal jokes and puns, in which adverse elements will be overcome. This is not entirely the case – Zoo is a play about captivity. Bevan’s characters are all in enclosed spaces. They are aware of a larger world outside where more opportunities are available. Although some moments feel slightly expositional, captivity is an effective motif and one which is explored carefully.
Co-directed between Bevan and Hamish MacDougall, the rapport between Carol and Bonnie is clear and entirely believable. These are two friends who met at a zoology conference many years ago. They both have specialisms and adore the natural world. Their shared history is convincing, and as the play unfolds, Beckett and Bevan capitalise on emotional hooks as they are made available. Sound design by Mike Winship presents other characters in the zoology world via recorded segments, which Bevan and Beckett respond to. This tessellates fairly well with the action on stage, but sometimes isolates the actors as they wait for a sound cue to finish. The set design is effective, and the audience is transported between Yorkshire and Miami in seconds. The sense of place in Zoo is well – crafted, and Erica Greenshields’ set is chaotic, veterinarian, and colourful.
Zoo captures a moment in time and the aftermath. It is mischievous but quite serious, too, and some of the conversations between Carol and Bonnie resonate and land on themes well outside the natural world. It is interesting that a play which centres around zoology has so much to say about the domestic. Bevan’s play is encouraging and funny, but also handles an emotional core with sensitivity and dexterity.