The only thing I’d heard about ‘Mammals’ before going to see it was something along the lines of: ‘a six-year old fingers herself on stage.’’ You could question why I then proceeded to buy a ticket, but remember that they give away free ones to reviewers and I was quite intrigued, if not excited. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised. Very little gratuitous masturbation, and a great deal of good acting.
Although ‘Mammals’ loosely follows the basic overused plotline of a couple tired out by domestic life looking for some kind of excitement, whether it be sex with the husband’s best friend, or falling in love with the woman at work, this production was closer to Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ than a belligerent criticism of life with a wife and kids. The actors kept the lines punchy and funny throughout the play, whilst retaining a sense of each character’s vulnerability. The script was undoubtedly good to start with, but did contain a few gaping traps that the actors nicely avoided.
The opening scene where Jane, the harassed mother, smacks one of her daughters did not leave you wanting to call Childline, but sympathising with the horrors of motherhood. The increasing sexual curiosity of Jessie, and the tension this creates with her father, felt like genuine naivety as opposed to an uncomfortable seduction by a Freudian baby prostitute. And, despite the fact that the set up for the unravelling of the plot was a series of confessions between different character pairings, the ‘oh-my-god-this-is-a-dramatic-Fight-Club-confession-moment’ was mostly avoided.
My favourite thread that ran through these big, dramatic adult conversations was Jessie’s: ‘’Do you have a hairy fanny?’’ Her mother answers this earnestly and frankly in the same way she responds to: ‘’is there any milk left?’’, her father (although asked a slightly tailored question for realism’s sake) proceeds to do the same, and finally Lorna, the over-sexed under-worked bag designer, seeing Jessie innocently pleasuring herself on the cupboard corner, replies in a drawling Jessica Rabbit tone: ‘’No darling.’’
Because the acting is so strong, ‘Mammals’ lives up to the idea suggested by its title. This is not a play with a laboured point about modern society, but a depiction of the clash between our impulsive, instinctual nature and our very human desire for monogamy. Although the production offers a more sophisticated analysis of this conflict than Bloodhound Gang, the drama of the play stems from the same premise, ‘You and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals/So let’s do it like they do on the discovery channel.’’