Half way through My Champion Heartache, a live tortoise is brought out on stage, illuminated by a single headtorch. The audience, 50 or so strong, bristle with anticipation – a live tortoise! But the tortoise doesn’t move. It stands stationary, not reacting to the nudges or taps from its owner. Not even food could coax it from its position.
This brief episode managed to symbolically sum up a lot of what went on in entire 50-minute performance, the second show to grace the boards of the Camden People’s Theatre for the LIFT2016 festival. What seemed like a fantastic and original idea (exploring human behaviour around pets, exposing the ludicrous attitudes that can come with it) unfortunately, and like the shelled performer, didn’t seem to go very far. What emerged was a series of loosely connected and sometimes entirely bemusing tableaux, each delving into a different facet of a pet owner’s life, yet never really finding a substantial conclusion.
This is a shame, because within My Champion Heartache lies a very entertaining and also important concept. At some stages the performers decided to break the fourth wall and project animal qualities onto the audience – just as pet owners project human qualities onto animals. The former is ludicrous, but the latter is nowadays almost commonplace. To highlight this contrast was an intriguing concept.
This has the makings of an interesting experience. The two performers -Dot Howard and Holly Bodmer had gone out and interviewed a number of individuals (mostly elderly), and within these recordings lay important and engaging points, showing how pets are perceived and humanized by their owners, as previously mentioned. But Odd Comics (the duo’s company name)’s misstep was to simply play these recordings back to the audience where they existed quite separately from what was going on on stage. The audience never had any motivation for listening or delving into the significance of what was being played back. Would may have been more effective would be to adapt and use these recordings in innovative ways, as done with Chris Goode’s and Karl James’s Monkey Bars and its interviews with children. Two person comedy sets around a single topic have also been pulled off far more reassuringly – even with the zany anti-humor attempted by Odd Comics.
The play also had some issues with blocking – those on the back row often having to stand to be able to see what was a lot of floor-based action, which became slightly frustrating. The show was onto something that could have charmed and appealed, but unfortunately never quite made it there.