Birmingham Rep Door


Tank is the story of a 1960’s research project funded by NASA, with American researchers attempting to teach dolphins to speak English.

It questions animal communication and ethics, but most importantly it looks into the power and politics that is held by language.

Deep in the time of the space race, the company emphasise the researcher’s desperate attempts at being the first to bestow the English language upon animals. The company tell us that because of a dolphin’s ability to communicate to others using their spouts, researchers wanted this communication to be in English.

The experiment was tested in an intensive ten week period within a Miami research centre. Company Breach show the disastrous consequences of interfering with an animal’s natural make up and ability.

They paint the picture of a stereotypical 60’s Miami setting with colourful descriptions. This is where the majority of the play is set. The cast of four narrate the controversial story and drop in and out of character and narration, taking on the character of the American researchers and even the dolphin.

The stage looks as if the performance could be a rehearsed reading at first. They have a table in the middle of the space laid with papers and folders. There are chairs around the table to give a work-in-progress look about the show. The screen at the back flashes pictures of water and images regarding the shows topic.

There is a distinct performance art element to the show and it feels as if we are witness to a presentation, rather than a play. The slick cast of four are perfectly in sync with each other, working the tight script that educates the audience about animal welfare in 1960’s America. They flow between telling the audience the facts of the drastic experiment to presenting the original transcripts which had to be painstakingly prepared just to listen to them.

The performance becomes more intense as the story continues. We learn that the researchers were so desperate to force human language upon animals by any means necessary. Half way through the piece, they make a square in the centre, acting as a pool for the researcher and dolphin to partake in language lessons.

Nothing matters more than for the researchers to teach the dolphins to learn English, to the point where nothing else matters, including the welfare of the dolphin. The cast paint an intensive and drastic image of the dolphin’s quality of life, not only with graphic dialogue, but we see at the end in a performance-art style a human depiction of the suffering dolphin.

The conversational style and snappy dialogue between all four cast members highlights the controversial themes. Sometimes they agree and there are lovely moments where we see a passionate justification as to why the experiment was wrong and unjust.

Whilst this piece shows us the importance of human decency and thanks modern society for ethics within research, the performance style is eccentric and this performance must be approached with an open mind. To 25-05-17

Elizabeth Halpin


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