Talking Dog - Review

 

On a cold and mean December afternoon, I can’t pretend there was much of a spring in my step as I arrived at the theatre to see an improvised (devised script -ed) play about talking dogs.

I need not have worried. The show is full of tenderness and charm – no hint of the sentimental whimsy I thought we might be in for – given what people say about doggy behaviour.

[Declared interest: I am a cat man.]

The cast of four has an easy confidence. They engage at once with the audience, eager to make eye contact. There weren’t many of us in the studio but they played as if we were a full house – professionalism in action. In fact, professional is what they are throughout, not only with their acting but with puppetry, mime and mask work.

The show takes about an hour and a quarter. In that time we go to the circus which has funny conjuring and a flirtatious French poodle, to a party political dog rally, and to a cinema where there isn’t a dog in sight . We are even in on the start of World War II with Neville Chamberlain’s strangely-elocuted voice announcing that the balloon’s gone up. Running in the background to provide the framework, is the story of an ordinary family. It’s all done in a permanent set well-suited to quick changes of locale.

There is a real-seeming stick puppet dog [a Boxer ?] made by Anita Sullivan. He has a surprisingly expressive face. The people in the show who aren’t dogs, wear masks from the Trestle Theatre Company.

The ensemble is Claire Armstrong, Mark Green, Frank Leon and Leanne MacKenzie.

The run-up to Christmas is arguably not the best time to offer an improvised show. Theatre-goers want something they can trust without having to work too hard. It doesn’t have to be a pot-boiler - how about a Priestley ? Or Ayckbourne or Goldsmith ?

Which is why I hope this talented group will keep their production together and offer it again in a slot where audiences are more likely to take a gamble. Improvised theatre is always a risk. On this occasion, one worth taking.

If this is what going to the dogs is like, count me in.

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Review by Louise Schweitzer for 'The Critic'
Reproduced by kind permission of The Argus
www.theargus.co.uk/theguide/critic

Against the measured tones of Beethoven’s op 26, we meet Mr and Mrs Wilson, their son Marty and their dog Eddy. It is around 1939 and war soon shatters the domestic scene, violence foreshadowed by galloping horses and a Clint Eastwood western. Marty is fatally shell-shocked, his father dies and Mrs Wilson, traumatised, has only Eddy – two legs bad, four legs good – for company.

But Eddy has an inner life: Eddy dreams. He joins CATS – Canines Against Tyrant Society and teams up with a feisty chihuahua who strips for a living. He goes to the circus and watches magic as well as a performing terrier who pushes the chihuahua in a pram, but escapes.

Yet nothing can escape the shadow of death and when the crows tell Eddy that Mrs Wilson is dying, he knows he cannot live without her. He loves his human family and leaves this world when they do.

Surreal, magic, moving theatre, stunningly acted by the tiny cast of Claire Armstrong, Mark Green, Frank Leon and Leanne MacKenzie, with minimal props and bare set.

Stuffed model Eddy was a convincing alter-ego for Frank Leon on all fours, while masks, mime, music and lighting produced limitless dramatic effects.

The play was written by Sarah Davies, who could never have expected in her wildest dreams such a vivid and imaginative recreation of her original idea, nor that four gifted young actors could quite so realistically scratch, wag their tails and bark.

 Review by Barry Hewlett-Davies