Theatre Group’s Production of Nicky Silver’s ‘Pterodactyls’ is set in an early 2000s alternate reality. The director, Alice Kellar, has created a highly stylised yet cohesive imagining of the play. A production of Pterodactyls has the capacity to be a risky venture as it deals with a delicate balance between the comic and the tragic, but this production manages to hit the nail on the head!
The play begins with Emma telling her mother that she is engaged to Tommy, an orphan working as a waiter and Grace decides to hire Tommy as the family’s maid while they plan the wedding. This joyous news is overshadowed by the return of Emma’s older brother Tod, who has been diagnosed with AIDs. Tod’s presence in the house forces each character to confront their own secrets: Emma’s repressed memories of her father sexually assaulting her, Arthur’s repressed feelings for his daughter, Grace’s alcoholism and Tommy’s homosexual desires.
When dealing with topics as dark as sexual assault, homophobia, alcoholism and suicide, it would have been easy for the play to become overly dark and depressing in its tone. On the other hand, it would have been easy for the comedy that pervades the play to have been over-done and to have ended up making light of these issues. It was neither. This production manages to strike the perfect balance between comedy and tragedy, using the former as a way of dealing with the inherently uncomfortable topics it explores.
A large source of the play’s comedy, the character of Tommy (Tiago Ventura) has the innate potential to become over-exaggerated to the point where he becomes incredible. It is a mark of Ventura’s ability that such comic scenes were played with such seriousness, and this added to the overall effectiveness of the audience’s understanding of the themes that Tommy symbolises: the exploitation of the working class and the exploration of one’s sexuality. Similarly, as a symbol of looming death there is a danger that Tod (Adam Ben), if portrayed as too morbid, could become laughable. Instead, Ben manages to exaggerate the irony in how Tod’s obsession with the immortality of fossils leads to him rebuilding the bones of a dinosaur at the same rate that his family disintegrates.
Emily Raven-Baker’s portrayal of Emma captured the hearts of each and every member of the audience, all of whom became increasingly sympathetic for her as her story began to unravel. It is not often that an audience audibly reacts to a revelation in a play, but when the cause of Emma’s so-called ‘forgetfullness’ is revealed as her father begins to touch her inappropriately, there was not one audience member who did not let out an involuntary jeer of disgust. Toby Oldham’s portrayal of her father played an invaluable part in the audience’s shock at the revelation of the real reason for Emma’s repressed memories. Had he chosen to play Arthur as someone who was inherently creepy or inappropriate, perhaps we would not have been so shocked, but his unassuming power only made his actions more appalling.
The set takes advantage of the tragic arch of the storyline through the subtle change in the view from the windows: it starts a light pink but transitions to a darker red at the start of the second act and finishes in complete darkness. The removal of a few accessories takes the Duncans’ family home from a lavish place of affluent wealth and luxury to impoverished misery.
Grace’s character arch mirrors this downfall and exposes some deeply ingrained double standards within Western Society. For example, whilst her drinking is portrayed as problematic at the start of the play when the family are prospering, it is presented as glamourous, and it is not until the family starts to spiral into misfortune that it is described as alcoholism. The five-man cast are well matched, gelling together well as a family. However, each of the Duncan’s regular monologues allow us insight into the characters as individuals and expose Tommy’s status as an outsider as a result of his background through the comic fourth-wall breaking comment that he is ‘not a part of this family’.
Pterodactyls is incredibly well executed and fuses comedy and tragedy in a tremendously effective manner.
Todd – Adam Ben
Emma – Emily Raven-Baker
Grace – Alice Fox
Arthur – Toby Oldham
Tommy – Tiago Ventura
Director – Alice Kellar
Assistant Director – Zoe Frechin-Pollard
Producer – Sumitra Tase
Assistant Producers – Rachael Winder and Jack Purcell-Burrows
Shadow Directors – Olivia Fraser, Shara Blanchard and Ulya Maslouskaya
Lighting – Al Simpson
Sound – Jay Sunley
Set – Sumitra Tase and Ellie Atkinson
Dinosaur Creation – Megan Takwani and Rebecca Burrows
Graphic Design – @rebeccaburrowsdesign (Instagram)
Photography – Abby Swain
Videography – Anson Lau