Me, As a Penguin, directed by Matthew Sedman, is an engaging and kooky production which follows Stitch, a naïve and timid young man with an affinity for knitting, struggling to find his place and cautiously searching for love in the underground gay scene of Hull.
Oliver Beaumont’s Stitch is a painfully shy outsider who fatefully steals a penguin to catch the attention of the larger-than-life, ‘laddish’ Dave with whom he had previously shared an illicit sexual encounter. Unfortunately, Stitch may have more in common with his illegally procured feathered friend than his would-be love interest. The moments of tension here are underpinned with the benevolent voice of a helpful woman’s knitting guide to add to the absurdity of such situations.
It is relationships like these which provide backbone and substance to this play, and the sibling-hood between Liz and Stitch is both incredibly sweet and comical. Sally MacAllister’s good natured and long-suffering Liz provides a remarkably convincing portrayal of the irate discomfort of being nine months pregnant, and a partner to Mark. These pairings explore the true heart of Me, As a Penguin, where real love and acceptance can be found.
Rufus Love plays the affable Mark, and it is he who appears to grow the most over the course of the play: from an immature man-child obsessed with his sofa and its connection to his previous bachelor lifestyle, to the awakened gentle empathy he displays after becoming a father. Love plays out this evolution of character with exceptional comic timing and great subtlety.
Stitch’s struggle with depression resonates, and the evocative climax of the play pulls on even the toughest heartstrings. Yet, the serious subject matter could have benefited from further emphasis, as the play seemed to reach a hasty conclusion.
This is not a play where Stitch transforms into the man he wants to be overnight and, in many ways, his decision to come to Hull of all places is ill-conceived. Director Matthew Sedman says: “Stitch does not find himself in Hull, but he makes a good start at finding out what he is not”, and this conclusion to his journey is certainly more real than some aspirational resolution. Tom Whiston’s surly Dave, even dressed as a penguin, provides a savage example of flippant rejection in a culture of casual hook-ups.
Fundamentally, this play has a wide scope, encompassing both sadness and joy, although perhaps the darkest moments would have been more poignant without the balm of immediate comic relief.
Me, As a Penguin is an entertaining and charming glimpse at the warm close-knit love of family, but is also a truly saddening story of rejection, lost hope, and the struggle for acceptance in an environment still hostile to the normalisation of homosexual relationships.
Me, As a Penguin
Photo credit: Sally Rufus