Review: Less Than Human, York Theatre Royal

Out of character’s < human by Paul Birch, is an ambitious piece that examines a post-apocalyptic world in which resources are scarce, power is everything and humans have been reclassified depending on their worth. With new class definers based on Darwinian terms (Homo Eximus, Homo Sapien, Homo Erectus and Australopithecus) replacing the traditional British class system, some lives mean more than others and the notion of care is irrelevant.

This timely satire of rhetoric we are hearing in today’s current covid-19 climate makes us question how we view our fellow man; are the disabled, chronically ill or mentally impaired less important or less worthy of life? The show’s writing brings these current and controversial views to the forefront, however the execution by the company is mediocre. 

While the plot is gripping the slow pacing and multitude of pauses between dialogue make it difficult to constantly follow. This is also echoed in the repeated sections of physical theatre seen throughout the show. These represent the race for power and survival between the new classes and are scattered in between the main narrative plot. Unfortunately, these lack precision and dynamism, resulting in their purpose being confused and the productions energy lagging. These sections are narrated by Jenny (played by Rachel Wall) who is positioned on a higher-level, side on to the audience. While her voice is engaging, building tension and drawing you to the narrative, her positioning makes it difficult to hear all of her dialogue or to be seen fully by the entire audience, once again slowing the shows pace.  Another aspect of the performance which is disappointingly slow are the transitions between the scenes themselves, but this may be due to it being opening night in a new theatre space. 

Despite the lack of pace and energy in some sections, there are some standout moments and performances. Firstly, Christie Louise Barnes as the Prime Minister is a treat to watch. Her energy shines on stage allowing you to fully engage in her scenes as well as appreciate the comedy of the text, especially within the club scene. Barnes picks up the productions pace while sensitively tackling difficult issues of anxiety and panic, creating a rounded, believable and engaging character.

Another stand out for me is Mark Gowland in the role of Ray. An intense performance, demonstrating conflicted morality against regime and family. Even though his dialogue lacks pace and energy at times, Gowland creates a believable and sympathetic presentation of a man trying to negotiate a changing world. 

< human, creates a terrifying yet darkly comic look at an Orwellian future that hits a tad too close to home. Regardless of its pacing and energy issues, the ideas the show tackles are important and timely. Even though the writing can be cliched, the script is clever and conscious to present these sensitive topics carefully. An ambitious and important piece that makes you question your own ideologies as well as laugh in the face of disaster. 

Less Than Human played at York Theatre Royal until 14/03/2020. For more information, see