The zoo has closed and the animals are among us, just trying to get by like everyone else in this cold, hard world. A giraffe and a penguin bump into each other while waiting for the re-release of a book. The giraffe has turned to academia and anthropology. The penguin has remained a penguin. So starts 2 Animals (That Don’t Traditionally Get Along).
First thing’s first, for those who aren’t clear: this show is a play. Performed by Jess Ciancio (the Penguin) and Mitch Holland (the Giraffe), 2 Animals is the latest from playwright Ryan Howlett. Playwright Rian Howlett has been cutting his teeth at the Swamp (the ‘backyard’ space at Bar Ampere) as part of Fireside Theatre, and this new work is proof that Howlett’s already-excellent writing is only going to improve with time. The show carries on the Australian tradition of larrikin absurdism, somewhat reminisce of He Died with a Felafel in His Hand and The Apocalypse Bear Trilogy.
Ciancio and Holland are dressed in simple costumes. Ciancio has black pants, a waistcoat that sticks out awkwardly in the middle, and a large white shirt with overly long arms. Holland has been spooned into a too-short giraffe onezie, with an additional head attached via a bike helmet. Some of the biggest laughs of the show come from the physical comedy of the two performers. Ciancio is excellent. She is unflappable – every movement is planned, penguin-like. Her physicality emphasises the absurdity of the situation, while subtly reinforcing that these characters are animals, slightly de-humanising what are otherwise very anthropomorphised characters. Likewise, Holland uses his height to present as a gangly giraffe, more focused on the cerebral than the physical, before deftly delivering a swift dance move or gag.
The physical comedy complements the fast-paced, at times verbose, dialogue. Wordiness is used purposely and to good effect, establishing a prickly relationship between the two central characters and creating a slipstream of jokes that draw key themes, internal thoughts and emotional cores out of the Giraffe and the Penguin. Howlett, who also directed the show, clearly loves language, but he’s been careful to balance word play and quick wit with stillness and silence. There’s some fun music cues, and Howlett himself features towards the end of the show.
Plot-wise, there’s definitely a bit of trope shorthand deployed to help Howlett get his characters where and how he wants them, but it’s contrived in a way that’s self-aware enough to be funny without detracting from the narrative. Some might find it a little lazy, but for most in the audience it feels appropriately off-handed and odd, especially as the ending rolls around and caps off the show, sealing in its lighthearted existentialism for freshness.
2 Animals doesn’t have your usual comedy festival laughs-per-minute hit rate, but nor should it. It’s exactly the kind of silliness and thoughtfulness you want in your hour-long plays. Besides, who doesn’t love penguins? Even if they do read Mein Kampf.
2 Animals (That Don’t Traditionally Get Along) is on at 8pm at Bar Ampere until 4 April as part of the 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets are available via the comedy festival website or at the door.