Theatre with Teeth: Love Among the Penguins review

Since November 1st,I have been listening relentlessly to Christmas music and watching Christmas films. I am that annoying flatmate who sings Wham in the shower and plays the Michael Bublé Christmas Album on repeat whilst cooking dinner. Watching ‘Love Among the Penguins’ seemed like a good way of maintaining my premature festive spirit, and I was not disappointed.

Aesthetically, the show was very appealing. Mardon Hall was completely transformed into a cosy winter wonderland. Fairy lights and white sheets adorned the playing space, whilst the audience were treated to bean bag chairs and lots of blankets. The scattering of (fake) snow only added to the Antarctic setting. The penguin actors wore suitably fluffy black cardigans and white tops, whilst the film crew donned puffer jackets and warm clothes, enforcing the sense of coldness suggested by the set.

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The main success in making the production believable though, was the performances by lead actors Harry Neal and Patrick Swain as the penguins Kev and Miguel respectively. Tiny nuances in movement including the way they tilted their heads or shuffled to a position made the audience invest in them as penguins from the outset. Traits such as these were present in the entire company, but the pair created them in such a manner that whilst ensuring their penguin persona, also allowed individual character to shine through. It is the result of attentive and successful direction when each actor can perform similar emotions and yet remain impressively distinct individuals.

Harry Neal and Patrick Swain, courtesy of Theatre with Teeth’s Facebook page

The filmmakers must also be applauded for the distinction they created between their human and penguin roles. The contrast in Sarah Dean’s authoritative director Connie and her lovestruck -penguin Sabrina was both humourous and charming. Claudia Bruce had hilarious timing as sound-girl Ingrid, with facial expressions that made her performance. In all, the cast was outstanding at bringing the script to life.

Hannah Simonds’ movement pieces and Alex Rafeal Rose’s compositions aided the performance hugely. Simond’s penguin mating dance was a highlight of the performance for me, as what could have been an extremely awkward scene was made lyrical and beautiful. The music throughout the performance too added warmth and certainly made the audience emotional, if the watery eyes around me were anything to go by.

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None of these successes would have been possible though if ‘Love Among the Penguins’ had not been the moving, funny, and clever piece that Alex Thomas has written. The play is such an original idea, that I had to ask him what inspired the show:

How did the idea for ‘Love Among the Penguins’ come about?

“So hilariously the idea came to me in a dream – the idea of a farcical comedy set in Antarctica – the initial draft was about documentary filmmakers and included no actual penguins. I then decided to have a penguin Greek chorus, which required me to do some penguin research. Then, upon researching, I discovered that penguins couldn’t tell different sexes apart, and then the plot was born. When I realised the penguin story was actually what I was most interested in, the narrative shifted to that of Kev and Miguel.”
“I love comedy of misunderstanding, and people pretending to be something they are not. It is such universal comedy, and I thought by combining this with unusual knowledge of penguins, and their incredible romantic outlook, I could make a classic rom com with a twist. I wanted to write a metamodern comedy, something both ironic but also incredibly sincere and romantic. Hopefully I achieved that.”

How do you want audiences to receive ‘Love Among the Penguins’?

“I wanted the play to feel a bit like a hug in the middle of winter and the end of an exhausting term. Thematically the play encourages the audience to be themselves, to have hope that things will work out in the end, and is fundamentally about love.”
Speaking to Alex, his enthusiasm for ‘Love Among the Penguins’ is highly evident. This came across in the production too. The show really fed the audience (thankfully not raw fish), swept them along with the story and made everyone feel the ‘Penguin Love’.

You can find Theatre with Teeth’s Facebook page here. Although ‘Love Among Penguins’ is no longer being performed, Theatre with Teeth have many exciting shows planned for next term. If you missed it, you can find their promo video below. All of the photos are from their Facebook page.

-Leigh Spence

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