ORLANDO — It may sound like an academic question, but it’s not: would you take out a loan from, of all types, a ferret?
A ferret, after all, is in a sense a rat, or of that animal family. But can looks be deceiving? Should we not be so quick to judge a book by its cover?
As it turns out, looks are not deceiving in the world inhabited by the cast of “Fosgate: Ferret Loan Officer,” a musical comedy about a group of animals in England who get caught up in a trial involving …. loans provided to other animals who harbor dreams and ambitions but not much in the way of business sense, and not surprisingly, there are plenty of sneaky, underhanded details lurking in the fine print at the bottom of those loan contracts.
Writers have been using talking animals to make comments and criticisms about modern society for years, perhaps most famously when George Orwell wrote “Animal Farm.” In that one, it’s the pigs who take control of the farm, driving the farmer off his land, then deciding that power corrupts and brutality helps keep the masses in line — including the hard working, but naive, horses.
”Fosgate” is nowhere near as serious or political, but then again, it’s aim is different. The show wants to have plenty of fun with the setup, and to toss in some good musical numbers along the way.
The play, now being performed at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, is set in Blackpool, England, where Fosgate the ferret has a bit of a reputation problem. He’s a loan officer, but Rufus, the pig, doesn’t trust him as far as he can throw him. He’s convinced Fosgate is a con man who lures fellow animals into borrowing money they can never afford to pay off, simply so Fosgate can confiscate their property when they fall behind on their loans.
Not everyone is so suspicious, including Violet the sheep, who accepts a job as Fosgate’s secretary, and Henry, a horse, who nurses ambitions of starting a new business where he transports people around the city in his horse-drawn carriage — but he needs money to start it up.
So Henry turns to Fosgate, asking to borrow a modest sum, 20 pounds, in order to get started.
Fosgate refuses — but that’s only because he insists that Henry’s idea has so much promise that he’s willing to loan him no less than 500 pounds, far more than Henry ever expected.
”Trust me now, it’s really going to get good,” Fosgate sings.
The horse is thrilled at this unexpected good fortune. So is the sweet and caring Violet, who is delighted to see how happy Henry is … until she starts reading the fine print on his contract and realizes that the loan is being provided at an astronomical interest rate that Henry might never be able to keep up with.
So what was that pig saying about Fosgate earlier ….?
Violet realizes she’s working for a … well, rat.
”He’s a weasel, he’s a rat,” she fumes.
But how does she save Henry without jeopardizing her new job?
In the meantime, the only human in the show is a local barrister who works at the courts, who hires Sherman, a dog, to be her guard dog. When Fosgate’s scheme becomes more clear to all — ”You’re about to witness how a small business fails,” he smirks — Felicity, the barrister, sets out to defend poor Henry before he loses everything.
The play makes some comments about how the banking system appears to be working against, rather than on behalf of, the interests of small time entrepreneurs with hopes and aspirations but limited means of getting there. But generally speaking, it’s less interested in political commentary than Orwell was, and more interested in just having fun.
There are plenty of modern references tossed in — when Sherman first gets hired as the guard dog, he asks ”I never inquired about benefits.”
Felicity shrugs. ‘Well, since we already have national health insurance, there are none,” she says.
Henry finds his business starts making a profit faster than he had expected, thanks to a YouTube video he made — ”I’m the new viral sensation,” he yells out with joy.
And there’s a fairly unusual sentence handed down in the court room that, as it’s about to be carried out, prompts the judge to note that the scene would work better if the characters were gay.
The cast appears to be having a ball doing this show, including Jason Wood as the conniving Fosgate, Sarah Lee Dobbs as Violet, and in particular Holland Hayes, who has some of the show’s funniest moments as the stuttering but sweet Henry, who only wants a little business to invest in, and has no clue what he’s setting himself up for.
Written by Ned Wilkinson and directed by Laurel Clark and Chris Levy, ”Fosgate” is a clever spoof, well suited for all ages.
There are performances on Saturday at 11:15 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Brown Venue at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theatre.
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