Park theatre, London
David has cerebral palsy and is determined to lose his virginity using Grindr in Jon Bradfield’s entertaining play
Any Grindr user faces a barrage of questions. Top or bottom? 420? Pics? Fun? Host? To these, the candid comedy-drama Animal adds another: “Do you have level access for a wheelchair?” David (Christopher John-Slater) has cerebral palsy but that doesn’t mean he isn’t gagging for it. He is 25 and dismayed that his carers can’t bear to ask whether his virginity is still intact (it is), so in desperation he downloads the ubiquitous gay hook-up app. After initial worries – how can he reveal his vital statistics when he can’t hold a ruler? – he is soon sending devil emojis and dick pics with the best of them.
One of the strengths of Jon Bradfield’s play (from a story by Bradfield and Josh Hepple) is that David’s cherry is dispensed with briskly; in no time at all, he is accumulating notches on his bed-post. This necessitates video projection by Matt Powell and swift scene changes on Gregor Donnelly’s set of sliding panels and neon tubes. Multiple parts are shared among the six-strong cast. William Oxborrow is especially deft in a string of roles including, most provocatively, the infantilising brute who tells David to “be good for daddy” and then David’s actual father, bemused by his son’s sex life.
John-Slater takes the hairpin bends of David’s emotional landscape with impressive grace, capturing the extremes of elation and despair that characterise the Grindr experience. Nowhere is he funnier than when feigning nonchalance as he persuades a friend’s lover to lend a hand after a series of thwarted assignations. As in Ryan O’Connell’s similarly themed Netflix series Special, the writing gets richer the more selfish, rash or unreasonable our hero becomes.
Only during a speech by one of his carers about the frustrations of being differently abled does the material veer into worthiness. The baggy first act could also survive a trim; too long is spent on the carers’ lives, and on demonstrating that David is not the only one with issues. He is, however, the indisputable font of dramatic energy in Bronagh Lagan’s production. When one lover tells him, “You make me want to stick around and see what happens,” we know the feeling.