Of all the topics that occur in plays, the point of view of a ‘carer’ has untapped potential and seldom been raised – until now. Written and performed by Christina Murdock, Dangerous Giant Animals traces the effect that a child born with cerebal palsy and an assortment of other ailments has on its parents and siblings. Told from the point of view of Claire, we hear about Kayla’s original diagnosis and the original hopes that she would make significant progress in her first six years of life to communicate clearly. Alas, this doesn’t happen, so the responsibility falls upon Claire to make every effort to connect with her younger sister.
While communication with Kayla is a major obstacle for the family, it’s nothing compared to her ‘temperament’. Possessing the mental age of a toddler, Kayla hasn’t developed a sense of right and wrong or an awareness when behaviour is being ‘unreasonable’ or ‘selfish’. This poses no problem when she’s relatively content or calm. However, when Kayla ‘misbehaves’ and poses a danger to herself and others, it’s emotionally draining and takes it toll on all the family.
While Claire has an older sister, she is largely absent from the narrative. Closer to Kayla in age, Clare is the family member who spends the most time with her. Murdock ‘ups’ the emotional stakes by showing that Claire is also the ‘glue’ that keeps her parents’ marriage together and has an inkling that an unexpected opportunity for her will have long-term ramifications for them all…
Some monologues have an abundance of wit, some are driven by unexpected twists and turns. Dangerous Giant Animals is ‘simply told’, (which is no bad thing) laying bare the emotional reality of caring for a family member 24/7, with no respite.
On the evening I attended, an audience member cried in recognition at what was conveyed on stage – love, in tandem with physical and mental exhaustion. If this play shows us anything, it’s that carers don’t enough ‘props’ for all they do and – perhaps more importantly – support (emotional and practical). They do what they do because it’s driven by love, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer from fatigue or would welcome ‘break times’ to ‘recharge their batteries’…
© Michael Davis 2018
Dangerous Giant Animals runs at Tristan Bates Theatre until 24th November. (6.15pm)