In 2017, HOME theatre launched a pioneering project with the aim of bringing the UK’s next generation of visionary, acclaimed artists to HOME’s main theatre stage. Their first ever T1 Commission is a brand new musical led by award-winning musical comedy cabaret artists, Bourgeois and Maurice.
With so many films being recently adapted into musicals, such as Back to the Future and Amélie, the musical theatre industry has often been accused of lacking originality. This seems to have been amplified by the popularity of jukebox musicals like & Juliet, despite it having recently bagged nine nominations for 2020’s Olivier Awards.
It makes a refreshing change to see a brand-new musical hit the stage, and boy, Insane Animals certainly lands in Manchester with the force of a cosmic meteor. The moment it starts, rays of green light shoot out into the audience, smoke fills the stage, and the silhouettes of our two alien protagonists appear. It’s an impressive entrance that pays homage to the greatest science fictions films.
Bourgeois and Maurice are no ordinary aliens though. They are intergalactic gods that have landed on earth to save humanity from hurtling towards self destruction. Before the pair can save humanity, they must discover what it means to be human. Using the oldest story ever written as a frame narrative, the Epic of Gilgamesh helps Bourgeois and Maurice unlock the answers.
Our time-travelling duo transport the back to a sequin embossed land of Mesopotamia in 1800 BC to tell the story of Gilgamesh; the tyrannic ancient ruler of Uruk, who became friends (or in this case, lovers) with a tamed wildman, Enkidu. Played with a great deal of endearing innocence and charm by Kayed Mohamed-Mason, Enkidu becomes enlightened, as Gilgamesh’s despotic nature is subdued. His relationship with Enkidu causes Gilgamesh to search for the secret to eternal life. This is a journey that will lead Gilgamesh, and our alien gods, through time into the near future with the advance of transhumanism.
Usually, new musicals are criticised for not having any memorable songs. Even though the band performing on stage are called The Forgettables, this is definitely not the case with Insane Animals, with its catchy, glamorous, 80s style electro-pop soundtrack, arranged by Victoria Falconer. It’s hard not to enjoy the nostalgia of keyboards and synthesisers, and this music took me right back to the sounds of A-Ha’s Take on Me and Styx’s Mr Roboto. The show’s delightful, euphoric anthem ‘Gay For You‘ is a highlight, alongside ‘Enkidu Do Do‘, and ‘Gilgamesh!’, which has been stuck in my head since I watched it. However, with its fairly lengthy running time, it feels like there are a few too many songs.
On the night I watched Insane Animals, the sound seemed muffled. Perhaps this was due to my seat positioning, the theatre’s acoustics, or simply the mixing on the night, but the musical numbers felt flat. This is in no means a reflection of the performers’ abilities. Lockie Chapman displays sublime vocal prowess as Gilgamesh. His beautiful ballad, ‘Don’t Want to Get Old’ gave me goosebumps. Emer Dineen has a luscious, seductive voice, enticing Enkidu as the enchantress, Shamhat.
Michael Hankin‘s set design and Julian Smith‘s costumes resemble a fusion between the Rocky Horror Picture Show and a 1950s Hollywood B-Movie. The costumes and make-up are fabulous, from Maurice’s Magenta-esque wig to Bourgeois’ dazzling eye make-up. The entire set appears to be wrapped in tin foil, including the band’s musical instruments. There must now be a national shortage of tin foil to accompany the empty shelves of loo roll and hand sanitiser. Whilst this adds a huge amount of sparkle and glam to the show, personally, I believe that it looks cheap, and lacks the refinement warranted by being on the main stage of one of Manchester’s most prestigious theatres.
It is great to see a theatre given artistic freedom to take risks and try something entirely fresh and original. The risk definitely paid off. Insane Animals is totally bonkers and immensely fun. Throughout most of the show, I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but I enjoyed it regardless!