Hamilton Gardens, Medici Court, Hamilton

23/02/2024 - 24/02/2024

Hamilton Arts Festival Toi Ora ki Kirikiriroa 2024

Production Details

Written and performed by Stephen Papps

The funniest show on four legs. Stephen Papps plays twelve characters – three of them dogs – in this gloriously funny solo tour de force.

An overweening, insecure man-child suddenly realises he’s becoming completely irrelevant. A fifty-year old woman is desperate for adventure and passion – but stuck in a marriage and a career that no longer inspires her. Add a rescue greyhound, stir the pot, and let the madness bubble up…”

Social Animal explores the powerful transformative nature of companionship, devotion and love between a man, a woman and a dog.

Medici Court, Hamilton Gardens
Saturday 24 February 2024
General Admission: $25.00 each
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Theatre , Comedy , Solo ,

1 hr

Well-written and full of humorous insights and revelations

Review by Cate Prestidge 24th Feb 2024

Veteran stage and screen actor Stephen Papps brings this new solo show to the opening weekend of the Hamilton Arts Festival – Toi Ora ki Kirikiriroa.

Performing in the Medici Court, a small outdoor amphitheatre in the Italian Renaissance Garden, it’s a lovely setting with the audience close to the action.

Social Animal is a comic take on the life of a middle-aged actor, also named Stephen Papps. Stephen is a bit of a man-child; self-absorbed, married to Vicky and stuck between waiting for the next big role and picking up jobs to pay the bills.

The script examines the vagaries of work and one’s great expectations versus the somewhat dim realities. Add in complication of a sinking relationship and slightly accidental dog ownership, and there’s plenty to explore.

He starts with a conversational introduction, like we’re old friends and reveals his earnest hopes for a part in a new biblical epic. Stephen feels his experience deserves ‘A Big Part’, in fact ‘The Big Part’, not to mention it’d help bankroll Vicky’s desire for a designer dog.

The rest of the show explores what happens next.

The show is prop free with Papps skilfully taking on all the work of multiple scenes and 12 characters, both human and canine. Stephen is our slightly hapless everyman, never quite getting the hang of his phone, both self-absorbed and soft-hearted. 

Vicky and other characters are introduced through physical and vocal changes and Papps moves between these seamlessly, although I am slightly put off by the casual costume of khakis and hat and wonder briefly if blacks would work better?

As well as the breathy, somewhat naïve Vicky, we meet chain-smoking, sweary agent Janice, droll local dog trainer Heather and various neighbours, police and dog owners.

It’s impressive for a performer to embody and sustain a big range of characters and the script is well-written and full of humorous insights and revelations.

While I appreciated the elements of caricature necessary to the story, I feel Vicky is somewhat infantilised with a voice that seems unrealistically childlike for a woman of 50.

Papps uses the space well, moving around the stage creating settings, action and relationships. He’s a whizz at vocal effects to enhance the action – birds, dogs, sirens, cars and a few less savoury. The post-party bathroom scene is a highlight.

He also really shines in the canine roles, bringing terrific energy and control to the barking, licking & running of the three different dogs. Some of the funniest scenes are at the park with the dogs off the leash – glorious.

My companion comments afterwards, “He does a very good greyhound.”  And so he does.


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