Photography: Naughty Corner Productions / @naughtycornerp
Hope Street Theatre 14/10/21

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when the premise of Sheep was five friends in the Lake District waking up to a dead sheep next to a used condom. What I definitely wasn’t expecting was a manic, quick-witted, and surprisingly tender exploration into masculinity and male friendship. In this Naughty Corner Productions performance, writer Oliver Back and director Mike Dickinson take us from boyish immaturity to pondering the insecurities of life after University with an impressive cast including Al Donohoe, Michael Hawkins, Daryl Holden, Damien Hughes, and Charlie Staunton.

Filled with an air of disarray and more cans than carpet, the set is reminiscent of every student house I ever set foot in. Initially, you’re greeted with a bit of a shock, given that the three of the cast present (Donohoe, Holden, Staunton) are in varying states of undress sprawled around the stage. From there, anarchy is the order of the day; the opening scene is a transcendent, drug-induced sway led by Donohoe as the four others rise from their cigarette-in-mouth slumber to lurch along to the techno beat.

Everywhere I look there lies mayhem. It’s a constant carousel of carnage and downright idiocy, with lashings of clever quips thrown in for good measure. Humour aside, each character quickly acquires a level of depth as we learn more about corporate careers, childhoods, and families through moving moments amid a steady flow of jibes.

But we soon arrive at the crux of the matter at hand. Not only are the men united by their hedonistic University days, they’re united by collective amnesia. Rather conveniently, none of them seem to remember the previous night’s events leading to the unfavourable circumstances surrounding one sheep and a condom.

As blame is passed around and the characters begin to unravel, we realise the havoc isn’t purely one dimensional. Psychedelics partnered with techno music see a foray into the invention of time through a comic monologue by Will (Staunton), who ends up somewhere in the audience to really hammer home that time really is just a construct. Suddenly, the wisecracks feel loaded, and the audience start to see a side of vulnerability emerge in each character.

At times nostalgic, there is a feeling of being cut adrift and left to wander as the cast start to come to terms with their lives as the rush from cavorting wears off. From unfiltered chaos to patches of honest melancholy, Back highlights how insecurities can plague us. Here, Back and Dickinson deftly capture the raw effects of toxic masculinity – how difficult it can be to talk about it, and how our role models harbour more flaws than we are prepared to admit.

As reality and emotion punch through the buffoonery, each member of the cast shines in their moments of monologue. It’s an arresting, trippy thrill of a show, captivating the audience from start to finish with sheer frivolity and at breakneck speed.

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