Love, Lies and Taxidermy is a dramatically presented love story. Three actors appear on stage to theatrical music, and begin narrating (very quickly) about a boy meets girl moment. Specifically, when Valentine meets Ashley outside a medical research lab and takes her to Tesco (because this is Merthyr Tydfil where all roads lead to Tesco). It is produced by Paines Plough, along with Welsh companies Sherman Theatre and Theatr Clwyd, and written by Alan Harris.
The play is fast-paced, and the actors frequently break away from enacting the story in order to explain background details, narrate their way into a new scene, or show a flashback. In addition to developing romance between Valentine and Ashley, the play’s storylines include Ashley’s attempts to make money to save her father, rescue Mr Tutti Frutti from financial ruin, and save the marital troubles of Valentine’s parents – Polish taxidermist/builder/conservative Jakub and Welsh Vicky. The story is sweet and humorous, and while there are some touching father-son moments, the dramatic style and fast-pace keep it from getting overly sentimental.
The three actors play all the characters as well as narrate. Somewhat incestuously, Remy Beasley plays both Ashley and Valentine’s mum, which is what happens when productions insist on maintaining the usual two male to one female performer ratio. The plot doesn’t do much to challenge traditional gender representations either, conforming to the notion of men as pursuers and rescuers of women.
There is a topical theme in the guise of European immigration to the UK; Jakub has some unique ideas about how to fit into British society. There is a certain bleakness in its portrayal of life in Merthyr Tydfil, where no future seems to exist. The taxidermy metaphor is cute, but tenuous in its relevance to the rest of the story, and many elements come across as fairly arbitrary. Indeed, the narrative does seem to lose its centre somewhere around the middle, and comes across as increasingly confused about what it is.
It is hard to portray a convincing love story in theatre, and Love, Lies and Taxidermy does negotiate this hurdle well by successfully avoiding soppiness. It is witty, makes some poignant observations, and very enjoyable to watch. You may be relieved to know that no actual taxidermy animals appear.