One of the best things about seeing a brand-new work, is just that – it’s brand new. And after watching the premiere of Bourgeois and Maurice’s new musical, ‘Insane Animals’ I can tell you, knowing very little about the performance you’re about to see really does pay dividends.
The fourth wall is broken very early in this performance; it’s broken regularly and to great effect. The piece opens with a rendition of the seminal theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The first song of the evening (Brink of Extinction) establishes that humanities dire situation with piercing humour.
We’re in a desperate state and if nothing’s done, we’re destined for certain doom. Enter Bourgeois and Maurice. Two alien gods with the power of time travel. Their objective is to save humanity, but in order to do so they must understand humanity, homo sapiens or as they like to describe us ‘human sexuals’.
Clad in figure hugging sequins, thigh high boots and make up that would make RuPaul blush – they link their quest to the Epic of Gilgamesh. A poem sited as being the earliest surviving work of great literature.
Directorially we’re served up two acts. Each lasting roughly an hour each. Bourgeois and Maurice are both narrators and actors actively affecting events we see before us. Think Zeus toying with lesser gods (or humanity) for pleasure.
However, in the hands of writers George Heyworth and Liz Morris this is no longer a whim but a quest for salvation. ‘…Insane Animals’ holds up an acerbic mirror to our modern way of life. The modern-day cultural references come thick and fast with a keen satirist’s eye that wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Have I Got News For You’. As a result, the performance works on several levels: a history story; a love story; political machinations; social commentary; and of course, time travel.
The cast, though small, skilfully manage to play multiple parts believably. Bourgeois and Maurice are fierce as the hosts of the show. Their performances are brought to life further by their acting during the piece as they steer us from ancient Mesopotamia to our present day. Gilgamesh (described as being part god, part mortal and thoroughly reprehensible) also delivers a stand-out performance that will linger in the memory long after the show ends. Enkido, a threat from ‘beyond the pale’, is an excellent foil for Gilgamesh’s narcissistic excesses. And finally, a nod should be given to the performance given by the harlot/shaman character who (only slightly) steals the show. Her performance and wit add spice and sass to an already formidable cast.
The musical accompaniment and choreography are provided by ‘The Unforgettables’, who deliver a stellar performance under the stewardship of Victoria Falconer (Music Director) and Carl Harrison (Choreographer). Mid way through act one Bourgeois and Maurice thank the ‘Arts Council’ for the funding gained to put on this show. There are references throughout the piece regarding the lack of budget to fulfil their cast list. Their ability to ‘improvise’ is ingenious and goes down very well with the audience. Act one’s set design doubles as the exterior of a spaceship and a glammed-up re-imagining of Uruk (Gilgamesh’s home);
There so much more I could tell you but doing so would ruin the sense of surprise instore for you. What I can say is, I particularly loved the thinly (or not, as the case may be) veiled references to Trump; republicanism; the BREXIT referendum; working conditions at Amazon, all carefully threaded into a tale about a Mesopotamian God.
The rapid-fire references are however delivered with such aplomb and grace that they never feel laboured nor do they lose their sentiment. If you’re fed up with the awful weather we’re having and our long dark nights this show is the perfect antidote – Bourgeois and Maurice’s Insane Animals is a sequin studded; thigh-high stomping; dazzling slice of escapism that genuinely has something for everyone.★ ★ ★ ★
Bourgeois and Maurice’s Insane Animals is at Home, Manchester from 28 February to 14 March 2020. Recommended age 16 +