If Shakespeare had fleas... and chickens...
Do you remember the first night you were let out alone? You didn’t have to come in when the streetlights went on, didn’t have to stay just within sight of the kitchen window, no further than Elaine’s at number 72. Do you remember feeling like anything could happen?
Rita Kalnejais’ takes you back there in ‘First Love is The Revolution’. A twisted take on star-crossed love brought up to date in an urban setting, sees two naïve lovers, with only their families and the whole world to keep them apart. Sure the premise sounds a little rehashed and overdone, but the Aussie play writes’ first outing into London theatre, is as thought provoking as it is funny and at moments, truly heart warming.
Did I mention one of them is a teenage fox?
Nothing like a spot of bestiality on a Friday night to make you ponder the boundaries of love, right?
Creeping out of the Soho Theatre after the performance I held my breath and bit my lip. Not wanting to overhear what anyone else had to say and dreading even more to be asked my opinion.
“Was that the strangest thing you’ve ever seen in theatre?” One woman asked as we descended to the heaving Friday night bar below. Her tone was rhetorical so I assumed she wasn’t a regular to the Dean street joint, known for it’s slightly left of centre productions, with that evening’s show making no exception.
Bastie (“Bastie, short for Sebastian Cunningham”), played by James Tarpey, is a boy. He’s small for his age, he’s had a growth spurt, but it was only his feet and his dad, played by Simon Kunz (yes he was the butler in The Parent Trap!) can’t afford new shoes just yet. Bastie’s Mum has gone away and, although no one says, they all know she’s had a mental-break-down. So it’s just him and his Dad, the two bachelors, winging it and trying their best. Although if you lean in you can smell the slightly sour stench of something that’s given up…
…Or at least that’s what Rdeca, a small red fox, played by Emily Burnett, says when they meet. She’s out on her own, exploring the night, totally in control, queen of the streets when suddenly she’s trapped.
Bastie’s been trying to catch a fox. It’s “only three incisions” to skin one and make a stole for his mum. But when he learns he can speak fox or maybe Rdeca can speak human he changes his mind.
During that first timid exchange as the pair slowly shift from fear into longing, the thrill of young love, new meanings to songs on the radio and that nervous excitement, which only comes of talking to your crush, is tangible.
You’re in. And it’s from here, that you, the audience will begin to question the boundaries of love, the idea of nature vs nurture and, you’ll have to remind yourself countless times that he is a boy, and she is a fox.
It’s this strange but powerful first love, which glues the piece together, pulling the otherwise unlikely characters into place. But it’s the other even more complicated relationships (yes, even more complicated than a boy and a fox…) that colour the piece.
Throughout Kalnejais subtly raises questions surrounding family, with both fox skulk and human representation. The male role is also questioned with the alarming but recognisable example set by Bastie’s father, who sees violence as a right of passage for a growing boy and doesn’t think twice about parading his sexual conquest before his 14-year-old. Kalnejais also brings us into the single parent home, with Rdeca’s mother, played brilliantly by Hayley Carmichael, bringing up her pups alone after Rdeca’s father “died for a kebab”. Kalnejais also allows us to experience loss and on several occasions ponder death, although these heavy thoughts are never too far from a laugh. Characters such as Gregor Mole, or two delightful chickens, represented as dithering old ladies sporting yellow wellies and clutching handbags, take care of this light relief.
The cast are small but perfectly formed, with those portraying the animal kingdom doing so with ease, under the masterful direction of Steve Marmion (Artistic Director of Soho Theatre). Each slip from animal to human character to animal effortlessly letting you know instantly who or what they are being. Anthony Lamble’s set and costume design goes further to cement the picture as his staging, with tunnels to foxes dens and even a grave disappearing below the stage allow the piece to flow between two worlds, not so different.
The tongue-in-cheek script pokes fun at preconceptions and raises questions about cross-culture relationships, love, death and understanding.
It’s Shakespeare with fleas on an urban backstreet. So, if you like your theatre with a touch squirm and your romance with some big questions (and a smattering of blood) I can’t recommend this production enough. First Love is the revolution is a hilarious play to make you think and feel.