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Trev Fleming is back again with a review of ‘SHEEP’ which has recently been shown at the Hope Street Theatre…

There’s been a bit of a debate raging lately. I say ‘raging’: it’s various factions in the Twitter-verse spouting off about just how one should behave in a theatre during a performance. Should we all sit in silence, stock-still and unblinking in deference to the art in front of us and be grateful to be even allowed in these cathedrals of catharsis and characterisation? Or should we be allowed to whoop and holler and chat along to the antics on stage while munching through two bags of Haribo and cracking open tinnies?

For me it’s somewhere in the middle. For other members of the audience, it was definitely tinnies and Haribo time. For others it was Crystal Maze time as they clambered over two rows of chairs to get to the front and walk on stage in order to get to the toilet.

Why am I chatting about the audience so much? Well, dear reader, it’s because the cast and crew of ‘Sheep’ deserved an audience that sat in stunned silence at the sheer wonderfulness of what was happening in front of them. They didn’t need drunken uncles shouting out how much they loved a character’s boots at a REALLY inappropriate time (and yes it was indeed a drunken uncle; I know because he told me so in the toilets afterwards in a most flagrant disregard of urinal etiquette) nor the incessant parade of folks clomping their way to the toilets/bar/who knows where.

There was not a single wrong turn in this show except perhaps the exclusion of an interval. At ninety minutes it was pushing the patience of a fair few in the audience, myself included, but I quibble.

‘Sheep’ from the get-go is a storm of stimuli. We’re greeted by the sort of living room bombsite that many of us would recognise from their student days. I recognised it from the party my older siblings had when my dad went on holiday when I was ten. We never did figure out how the dartboard ended up on the roof. Anyway. What follows the initial tableau of meditative nakedness surrounded by party detritus is a ninety-minute fever dream slash second coming-of-age story.

There’s a dead sheep with a condom on it. Who fucked it? No one knows or will own up to it. Though various interrogations, panic attacks and rounds of ‘getting back on it’ the layers of bravado and toxicity are stripped away from the five characters. Each faces their pasts and futures, what they’ve been through and what life still has in store for them. For some, this weekend with the lads is an escape from their banal existences. For others, a way of not facing up to their responsibilities.

Ultimately it’s about fear, in my opinion. Fear of becoming what you need to become as you grow. Fear of the failure, of the ‘what if?’ For many, myself included, fear has been a big part of inaction through the years. The trick is to recognise it and tell it to fuck off, which is precisely what the lads of ‘Sheep’ do.

To single out any of the actors would be unfair to the rest, given the excellent performances from this outstanding cast. Each had their moments of vulnerability and humour. Usually as an actor you either get one or t’other, but the script from Oliver Back provides ample room for each character to breathe, and shine. If I had to give special praise it would be to Al Donohoe, whose comedic skills gave his timing a surgical precision in moments, although the accent did wobble now and again. There’s no rule that says you can’t have two Scousers in a play.

The direction from Mike Dickinson shows just how much can be done with a one room play. Clever lighting and a cracking sound design allowed us to travel the interdimensional highway with the cast as the shrooms kicked in and the LSD took hold and the paranoia took root.

Overall ‘Sheep’ was a cracking show that really grabbed my attention and held on for dear life for ninety minutes. The genuinely shitty antics of some audience members could have ruined it, but they didn’t. Stick an interval in next time, yeah? Yeah.

5 Cheeky Bumps.