The Animal Kingdom

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The scene is set for an awkward family encounter that might explain why Sam (Ragevan Vasan) is subject to violent temper tantrums and bouts of self-harming. Ruby Thomas’s play treads familiar territory but does so with a degree of authenticity and a genuine feeling for the characters that defies the need for any great revelations or tricky plotting.

Halfway through, when you’re waiting for the story to kick in, it becomes clear the characters are the story.

The authenticity of the playwright’s dialogue – rare for a young writer – reinforces the sense that we are witnessing a genuine therapy session.

The rectangular set, a kind of greenhouse/therapy room in which the participants change seats like musical chairs, is simple but effective. 

As unruffled therapist Daniel (Paul Keating) encourages each character to reveal their own nature – the overbearing mother (Martina Laird), the pathologically silent father (Paul Hickey, standing in valiantly for Jonathan McGuinness absented by Covid), the quietly damaged sister (Ashna Rabheru) – they reflect on the problems and issues of a man who defines himself as “Queer. I’m NOT gay!”

The more we learn, the less we know, which is closer to real life than any neat resolution, happy or unhappy, would provide.

Hampstead Theatre, London, until April 2. Tickets: 020 7722 9301



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