Laban Theatre, London
Music by Michael Webborn
Lyrics and book by Daniel Finn
Directed by Simon Grieff
|The company of Animus
Set amidst family strife in 1700’s London, three children bicker and squabble over their inheritance after their father has mysteriously died. Charlotte, the eldest, a headstrong and determined young woman who’s been bequeathed her father’s wharf business is determined to prove to the patriarchal society around her that she is their equal, however deadly the consequences.
In what is the second collaboration from British writing team Webborn and Finn, Animus delivers a cleverly constructed plot including complex characters and a chilling mystery that keeps one guessing.
There was fine work here from the students of Trinity Laban who gave the piece a 3-show outing. Animus is no easy beast to tackle comprising a dark subject matter, challenging score and multifaceted characters. Played out on Amy Yardley’s sparse set, the audience had to use their imagination to envision the settings. This may have been another hurdle for the students to climb but they did so with precision and confidence. While no doubt well intentioned, Yardley’s projections of 18th century London were at times an unnecessary distraction, failing to fill the backdrop that they were intended for.
Three specific names must be mentioned for their performances. Danielle Whittaker as Fanny Penhaligon, the powerhouse madam of the local brothel was a joy to watch. She brought an excellent comic timing that lent itself so imperatively to the nature of the character and her voice while powerful was delicate enough to suit the style well. Similarly, Harvey Westwood as Joe Grey, the loveable cheeky street urchin/thief, who helps Charlotte, track down her enemies was very easy to watch. Westwood brought a welcome, relaxed vibe to the piece that lifted the mood continuously. Resembling something of a young Ralph Fiennes, he’s an honest actor with an impressive vocal range that comfortably met Webborn and Finn’s challenging melodies.
The most striking performance however came from Laura Barnard as Lily Donne, Charlotte’s younger sister. In an incredibly complex role she simmered quietly throughout the show as the chaos ensues around her. Hovering in the background until her true motives are revealed in the second half proved effortless for the young actress and was truly the highlight of the evening. Barnard has a soaring and emotive voice and her visible turmoil had one ensnared throughout.
The students of Trinity Laban should be proud of their achievements. They have tackled a monster of a piece with professionalism and skill. It will be intriguing to see what else this year has to offer, later down the line.
Reviewed by Charlotte Darcy