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Pests and People in Stef Smith’s Human Animals

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 April 2021


Throughout the history of western theatre, animals onstage have invariably been read in relation to human concerns. The reviews of Stef Smith’s Human Animals (2016) at the Royal Court followed in this tradition, interpreting the play’s central animal players as symbolic stand-ins for humans. By examining the particularity of the non-human animals at the centre of Human Animals’ urban eco-crisis, this article aims to rectify previous anthropocentric readings and acknowledge the agency and autonomy of the play’s non-human animals, namely pigeons and foxes. Building on Una Chaudhuri’s ‘Theatre of Species’, this article demonstrates Human Animals’ deep engagement with animal alterity, subverting conventional socio-zoological classifications of ‘pest’ animals and popular preconceptions of pigeons and foxes in British culture. While Smith’s play uses the dystopian mode to dramatize a small-scale, localized eco-crisis, this article highlights how its focus on urban animal encounters and zoonotic disease holds broader implications for re-imagining inter-species relations and planetary health. An award-winning playwright, Isla Cowan is also a PhD student at the University of Glasgow. Her current research investigates ideas of ecological consciousness in contemporary Scottish theatre and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (SGSAH).

Research Article
© Cambridge University Press 2021

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