“I’m afraid things are not as they seem.” These words, spoken by Mabel (Tasmin Sandford Smith), reflect much of the mystifying world conjured in Practically Peter’s production of You Are Frogs.
Absurdist theatre is not something we often get to see in Oxford’s student drama scene. This, I feel, is a great shame – some of the most popular comedy we like to consume ventures into the realm of the absurd, with highlights including The Mighty Boosh and Monty Python. Equally, theatre-makers are consistently aware of the legacy of playwrights like Samuel Beckett. As such, Practically Peter’s production of the absurdist dark comedy You Are Frogs comes as a welcome addition to the Hilary term.
You Are Frogs is a fairly new play, first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018. It focuses on the relationship between two frogs, Garry (Gemma Daubeney) and Mabel. The child-like Garry and Mabel are cooped up in a house and, as a result, have become increasingly isolated. The monotony of their intense relationship becomes disrupted, however, when a metal puppet named Bill (Gregor Roach) comes into the picture, shifting the dynamic forever.
In the scenes I watched during the preview, I was able to witness the section in which Bill is brought into the picture. The relationship of Garry and Mabel, prior to the introduction of the play’s third character, is depicted as playful but also unsatisfying. It is also a relationship that is hard to define – is Garry and Mabel’s relationship that of siblings, or of lovers, or does it also possess parental aspects to it? This instability contributed significantly to the excellently uneasy theatrical experience. Ultimately, the cyclical nature of Garry and Mabel’s dialogue as a pair longs for the disruption that Bill generates with his arrival. In the section I watch, all three actors depict this triangular relationship with a confidence and detail that is commendable. Particularly convincing are the physicalities of the actors – they strike a successful balance between anthropomorphising the characters, through facial expressions, and also, through droopy limbs and odd sitting positions, reminding us that the characters they depict are very much not human.
Despite the constant undertone of unease created by this play, there are also moments of joy and humour. A particularly nice detail is the inclusion of play-dough as one of the primary props used by Garry in the production. The use of music, particularly jazz, is also beguiling. In the preview I witnessed a scene in which Mabel dances, whilst Garry sings along to a soulful song – the two combining to create a mystifying, yet unsettling atmosphere.
It is this line between playfulness and danger that Practically Peter’s You Are Frogs is interested in exploring, and one which I think is intensely relevant to everyday experience. Whilst this play seems to present a peculiar and obscure plot about two fictional frogs, in reality it examines issues that are much closer to home – jealousy, interdependence and triangular relationships. As such, I am reminded of the beauty of the absurd – it allows us to think more deeply about things close to us, with a clarity that, somewhat paradoxically, can only be gained from a distance. I highly recommend you get down to the BT this week to see You Are Frogs, finishing on Saturday.