Encased in tactile fabric with a raised platform at one end, the runway stage stretches to a pile of storage boxes at the other end. As the audience settles, our eyes are drawn to a figure encased in more tactile fabric in the middle of the stage. I suspect it is a person but I’m not sure.
As the lights go up, the large subject moves and it is indeed a person: Alice, or Ali for short, played by Poppy Allen-Quarmby. Confident and nuanced she addresses the audience as a standup comic until anxiety overwhelms her and she starts to unravel, shouting that she can’t see the audience and begging for the lights to come back on. A figure from the back tries to calm her down, and it becomes apparent that she is in the middle of a nightmare. Almost a year previously, Ali’s dad died. Paralysed by grief, she is unable to leave the house but her partner, an A&E doctor, needs to go back to nightshifts and they can’t cover their living costs. So, they are seeking a paying lodger.
As if by magic, Tiger appears at their door to be interviewed by Ali whilst Oli is at work. Tiger is … well, a tiger. Or a human dressed and acting like a tiger with no surname, history or understanding of cultural references. Meg Lewis is outstanding in this role, wearing an orange and black striped suit, glossy white fur lapels, a bike helmet and a tail. Their actions are ceaselessly realistic as they slither and prowl across the stage, stroking their tail for reassurance, leaping lithely from space to space. Even in silent repose, curled up on haunches and observing the action from a distance, they never lose their animalisation. The uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding this character is fundamental to the piece: we are never quite sure if they are real or imagined, which is exactly what grief can do to your mind. And of course, they are “different,” and by implication the audience is asked to consider if this difference should matter as Ali and Oli (Luke Nunn) react to them in different ways.
Writer Joe Eyre has created something clever and extraordinary. The script tells the story of the loss of a father, of a grown-up child that has had a mental breakdown as a result, and of a partner who is a doctor that can’t help. It is also a tale of secrets, of a character that may or may not be real and mysteriously turns up at the right time. But the narrative is not linear or didactic, but rather, slightly opaque. I spent much of the time questioning what was real or imaginary, which I suspect is deliberate as the audience are encouraged to make their own journey through the tangled mess of emotion and memory that follows grief. The three characters move deftly amongst each other, and, even when silent, remain an intrinsic part of the scene, their bodies and intense facial expressions conveying their feelings.
Tiger is both silly and heart-wrenching, childish and yet adult. It uses minimal props that symbolize a number of important themes and everything that’s been chosen – dialogue, plot developments, staging – has been carefully crafted to reflect the cacophony of overwhelming and competing emotions that swing from one extreme to another, just as when you are grieving.
Simultaneously singular and universal, Tiger explores the human condition and the cathartic release that comes from kindness. Wherever it comes from.
Written by: Joe Eyre
Directed by: Myles O’Gorman
Produced by: Jessie Anand
Set & Costume Design by: Hazel Low
Tiger plays at Omnibus Theatre until 2 December. Further information and bookings can be found here.