There’s something to be said about dating animals. They’re straightforward, relatively predictable, and often more empathic than people. It’s probably why Bobby, played by producer Linus Karp, chose to lose his virginity to a dog he picked up on his way home from a party. But what possesses a man to opt for bestiality over, say, Tinder? That’s the question posed by Rob Haye’s Awkward Conversations with Animals I’ve F*cked.

Over the course of an hour and through five conversations (I use the term loosely due to a lack of reply from his animal counterparts), we see not only Bobby’s growth from an awkward first-timer to a one-man animal-liberator-and-romancer army, but also the past that led him to take this dark and lonely path.

This loneliness, the desperate need to fill a void with companionship, permeates every scene and is the main focus of the play. It is evident in the set of his tiny, hoarder’s burrow of a bedroom we, as the audience, are invited to view from an uncomfortably close proximity. It accents the rambling monologue nature of Bobby’s conversations with his animal companions, a move that was initially jarring but made sense, given the delusional nature of his personal reality. It even underlies his actions and behaviour when accessing the stage. There’s none of that pacing or ownership that we typically see of a one-man show, instead, Bobby looks just as uncomfortable and as out of place in his own bed as the woods he eventually ends up in.

Karp does a wonderful job of portraying Bobby as an awkward, reclusive adolescent. There’s initially a wide-eyed innocence and Michael Cera-esque gawkiness to his conduct that runs counter to his bitter cynicism and resentment he displays while talking about his human peers. It’s chilling, the casual flip between post-coital small talk and the lashing out at society as a whole and it is the latter, darker aspect of his personality that is given the most space to grow throughout the show.

Where Awkward Conversations runs a little flat is its comedy, which I was slightly disappointed by. With a name like that, I was expecting great things but the humour, while always a welcome relief with such serious subject matters, is often a bit too knowing for someone who is so fully involved with his own delusions. It’s also not quite enough to really lift the progressively dark narrative Bobby is led down.

Awkward Conversations with Animals I’ve F*cked is a powerful and unsettling exploration of loneliness and how one man tries to deal with his isolation without a role model or the support he needed. In many ways, it’s the origin story of bullies, misogynists, and incels, just with added heavy petting.

Awkward Conversations with Animals I’ve F*cked is running in King’s Head Theatre from 12th to 27th April.

-4 stars