Theatre review: Dangerous Giant Animals, Underbelly, Bristo Square/Cowgate

Christina Murdock plays the three sisters at the heart of her tale. Picture: Contributed
Christina Murdock plays the three sisters at the heart of her tale. Picture: Contributed
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The family members who look after ill and disabled people are often only spoken about in terms of news stories and statistics. We rarely hear from them directly or individually – something that makes Christina Murdock’s one-woman show, based upon her real-life experiences of growing up with a disabled sister, feel like both a fresh new perspective and a universal tale.

Dangerous Giant Animals, Underbelly, Bristo Square (Venue 302)/Cowgate (Venue 61) ****

We rarely hear from them directly or individually – something that makes Christina Murdock’s one-woman show, based upon her real-life experiences of growing up with a disabled sister, feel like both a fresh new perspective and a universal tale.

With down-to-earth ease, underpinned by skilled storytelling, Murdock plays sisters Clare, Monica and Kayla, as well as their parents, to create a pleasantly unsentimental, funny, well-balanced and thought-provoking exploration of a regular family dealing with an extreme – but in some ways very ordinary – situation.

Kayla, we learn, has a mix of disabilities, including cerebral palsy and epilepsy: she can hold a fork but not tie her shoes; say short words but not long ones; and has around ten epileptic fits an hour. It sounds horrendous, but Murdock’s cheerful, chipper narration captures the family’s getting-on-with-it approach, albeit one that is sometimes pushed to its limits.

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As the three sisters get older, the family unit begins to fragment, while Kayla – who loves watching videos of wild animals catch their prey – becomes bigger, stronger and more violent.

In a heated confrontation, Clare is provoked into doing something she later regrets. As she questions where her breaking point is, the play invites us to do the same. Is Clare the “dangerous wild animal” of the play’s title? Is Kayla? And, without the influence of society’s rules – including a knowledge of “right” and “wrong” – are we all?

These are thought-provoking questions in an energetically directed, sharply written small-scale tragedy – one that comes to embody much bigger questions about responsibility, imperfection, and trying and sometimes failing to do the best we can in difficult situations.

• Until 26 August, noon at Cowgate