The only redeeming feature of this play is the strength of Lucy Roslyn’s legs. Keeping the pose of chimpanzee Goody for an hour, Roslyn bounces and clambers around the stage, doing all she can to make the audience laugh as they consider escaping their own cage of the theatre.
Jesse Rutherford struggles more with his role of Goody’s abusive owner Frances. With slack body language and a lack of variation in his voice, his impressions are tricky to tell apart, and neither humour nor dominance flows easily from him. Frances’s authority is never realised, creating a power dynamic that has no space to play in. He is an insecure owner who turns to violence every time he can’t control Goody, but the relationship between them is not strong enough to make us care.
Where the play really suffers is the logic of its language. At first Goody communicates through sign language. Sporadically, she speaks aloud, either to Frances or to announce subtext, clumsily thrown into the script like dung at an annoying zookeeper. Frances sometimes hears and sometimes doesn’t. It sometimes matters and sometimes doesn’t. The script falters and drags. The logical thread is dropped so many times I think it must have got tangled in Goody’s cage, and no one bothers to unpick it.
As Frances and Goody half-heartedly search for comfort in the damaged love of the other, this play is essentially a weakly-told story of a lonely man gaslighting a chimpanzee.
Tattered dolls and cuddly toys are scattered around the room, inanimate until they grab the hungry attention of double act Mireille and Mathieu. Performing in a mixture of English, French and garbled nonsense, these riotous performers are just big kids.
Their attention spins from one toy to the next, inventing stories that rip the objects from their original context. Babies box; Barbie and Ken get mixed up in a futuristic, Biblical fable; and mischievous rabbits play Knock-Down-Ginger.
Aside from a misplaced phallic joke, the childish delight the pair instill ripples across the audience. The speed with which they change story, power structure and character keeps the energy high throughout.
Mireille and Mathieu don’t hide their bodies like many puppeteers. They are as flexible, malleable and prone to manipulation as the toys they control.
The pair race to catch up with each other and make us laugh even more. Mireille turns the ironing board into a horse—entirely believably—until Mathieu gets distracted by a bin lid and the horse is discarded, its former use redundant. They communicate through their puppetry rather than directly in coversation, their domestics turning into childish tiffs. The duo aren’t afraid to be brutal with each other either, thumping and rolling their way across the stage.
Top-notch tech isn’t needed to transport the audience in Arm, only a leap of imagination. At the end of this unruly performance, it seems appropriate that the toys get a round of applause too.