Interview with Pterodactyls: more than just the bare bones

Pterodactyls by Nicky Silver is a new project funded by the Oxford Revue and comes to the Burton Taylor Studio at 7:30pm Tuesday-Saturday in 8th Week. The show marks the first time in a long time that the Revue has funded an existing comedy show, and the Oxford Student caught up with Pterodactyls director Kieran Ahern to find out what it’s about and the impressive central fossil-based feature.  

Can you summarise the plot of the play?

The play revolves a Philadelphia family formed from a kaleidoscope of different mental and physical affliction; from delusion to amnesia, and, in the case of the central character Todd (Tom Dowling), an AIDs diagnosis. What follows from this is a descent of these individuals into a far more rudimentary, base state that ends up being both harrowing and hilarious.

How are you blending elements of the realistic and the absurd?

A lot of this comes through the set and the characters at work. The play begins with a very conventional, warmly lit Philadelphia apartment and over the course of the show becomes far bleaker and desolate. Going on alongside this are a number of ludicrous dialogue-based experiences, that oscillate quite distinctly between sentimentality and the surreal.

Rumour has it you are using a very impressive set: a 2 metre dinosaur skeleton, can you tell us the thinking behind this and the difficulties it presented?

One key element of the play itself is a collection of bones found in the backyard by Todd and slowly assembled over the course of the play. Of course it’s taken us a bit longer than an hour to assemble the dinosaur (currently housed in a St Catz’ kitchen) but the main idea is to get the skeleton towering over the audience and really add to the haunting feeling that the show creates.

The play deals with the theme of the AIDS and its treatment in the 1990s. How is this achieved? And why the choice to link it to pre-historic elements?

A lot of this comes down to Todd, who is both a maverick in many ways but at other times really the most human member of the cast. He has been diagnosed with this affliction that really scares him, and yet a familial comfort is not forthcoming. It is the bones, stagnant and decaying at first yet forming a distinctly powerful image by the end, that really provide him with a sense of comfort. It is this that Silver is really trying to show with the pre-historic elements.

Why should people come and see this – what makes it different from other Oxford shows?

What makes Pterodactyls so different from shows is this lucrative blend of black, refined comedy that the cast have spent a long time perfecting mixed with these extraordinary familial situations. Every scene is not just hilarious to watch but also very resonant for the audiences, and they’ll leave it satisfied with a real sense of attachment to some of the characters depicted.