During the 20th century, absurdism and surrealism surfaced in literature to make pertinent points about human nature and ‘the real world’. Prime examples include Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and by George Orwell’s Animal Farm. In both cases, anthropomorphism features – a state of affairs that is tonally ‘taken for granted’. However, in each narrative, the ‘rub’ lies in the conflict between one’s ‘true’ nature and what the individual is ‘supposed’ to be… Directed by Anna Campbell, Tom Powell’s short audio play Love Beyond The Zoo taps into these themes, though like Orwell’s Animal Farm, there are layers of meaning.
On the surface, Love Beyond The Zoo takes on the form of a children’s story, a tale about a man’s relationship with an elephant named Molly after liberating her and other zoo animals. A lot of thought has put into the choice of words used in the play and its scenarios, making the ‘fantastical’ as ‘plausible’ as the ‘mundane’. In phrases such as: “Put one foot in front of the other/And then put the other one in front of that” (of which there are variations used throughout) a ‘nursery rhyme rhythm’ is established in the piece. There are also clever uses of language, where the subtextual meaning of idioms such as ‘elephant in the room’ have a greater resonance.
Tom Powell (who also wrote Love Beyond The Zoo) plays the man ‘besotted’ with Molly, a shoe shop accountant who previously led a conventional, predictable existence. Molly (as played by Safffon Coomber), is the more mercurial of the two, as her changeable thoughts and feelings drive the narrative.
Following the ‘breakout’ of the zoo, the play poses the question: what is ‘freedom’ and once it is attained, is there anything more to be desired? Molly finds hiding out in a flat in Shrewsbury to be the replacement of one ‘cage’ for another. However, the bewitching melodies of the local night club prove to be too enticing to ignore and provides an environment to engage with the outside world. It is in this ‘melting pot of humanity’ that Molly assimilates the surreptitious traits of human beings, a change that will have lasting ramifications for both of them.
The conclusion of the narrator’s arc with contentment when he’s ‘one with nature’ works on many levels. Asides from finding equilibrium with the natural world, the eschewing of concerns for tomorrow, while being present only for ‘today’ has its own freedom. Only the ‘threat’ of returning to ‘civilisation’ can usurp the metamorphosis of this state of mind…
© Michael Davis 2021
Love Beyond The Zoo ran on BBC4 RADIO XTRA & BBC SOUNDS on 10th September.
Love Beyond the Zoo was written while Powell was CSRC Writer in Residence at Pentabus Theatre and produced as part of New Creatives. New Creatives is talent development scheme supported by Arts Council England and BBC Arts, delivered in the Midlands by Rural Media.