How far would you go for fame? Would you participate in an advertising campaign for milk? Leak videos of yourself online? Or perhaps shimmy your way into a live crocodile in St Petersburg zoo, luring in passers-by with jingles and political rants? That’s precisely what Ivan Matveich does – albeit somewhat by accident.
Tom Basden’s (Fresh Meat, Plebs) absurdist comedy The Crocodile is a hilarious look at everything from communism to caviar, fame to stroppy French waiters. Dominic Weatherby plays the talentless and out-of-work yet determined actor Ivan, who, after years of failing to gain any traction, finds himself in the belly of a crocodile and shoots to instant fame.
Weatherby is brilliant as the egotistical Ivan, and his energy, as bounds around the intimate space of the Pilch, is infectious. So much so, that for the short time in which he is stationary in the enclosure at the back of the set, the energy of the show suffered a little. The cast, however, is stand-out in all regards. Luke Wintour as Zack, the best friend continually frustrated by Ivan’s blindness to his own mediocrity, is brilliant in his frustration, and offers a much-needed normalcy to the weird and wacky characters of the play. Kate Weir as Anya, former actress turned cushion maker, is always entertaining and Jon Berry and El Blackwood shine in their range of satiric parts. Julia Pilkington particularly had the audience in stitches with her fantastically relatable portrayal of Mr Popov – the risible zoo keeper who has a somewhat unorthodox attitude towards tinsel – and was equally absurd in her brief appearance as the Tsar himself.
There is a great attention to detail in the direction of the show. There’s a consistently funny uses of props – Berry, as the hopeless police inspector Mr Zlobin, comes fully equipped with a miniature beach chair and tangerine stress ball – and excellent costuming choices. I was a particular fan of Ivan’s pool-slides as he strutted around in his crocodile outfit. This cast very much feels like a team, and it’s their ability to bounce off one another which keeps the comedy engaging throughout. And the audience feel included too. At several moments the fourth wall is broken, as we become the animals in the zoo. Arrive early enough and you may even get handed a pair of animal ears. This reversal, in which the onlookers become the objects of the actor’s gaze, works really effectively in transporting us into a world of suspended reality.
A blend of naturalism and complete absurdity is wonderfully achieved by this production. Characters, settings and ideas feel familiar and yet, concentrate for a moment and nothing quite adds up. This is a show of first-rate satire, and if you need a laugh on these cold winter night, I suggest getting yourself down to the Pilch. Just don’t visit any zoos on the way.