This haunting chamber play by Jon Fosse casts its spell over the audience from the moment one sets foot in the theatre foyer, where one is immediately enclosed in a house on the edge of a Norwegian fjord.
A couple of paintings serve as windows which give us the view, both bleak and spacious. Strangely, the window on the set itself shows nothing but milky blank.
As the lights come up we are immediately plunged into the grief of a young man whose only friend, his dog, has disappeared.From this ordinary event, there slowly ( a little too slowly) unfolds a tale of darkness and horror. This terrible story is gradually revealed within an almost liturgical chanting of words and broken sentences, both banal and cumulatively chilling.
The power of this play lies mainly in the language. Nothing much actually happens for quite a long time. Still, the repetitions, the unfinished phrases, pound insistently, as if the characters are determined to ignore the ominous story that silently unfolds like a shadow and finally engulfs them all as time moves inexorably on.
Words repeat hypnotically through the play: ‘fine house’ ‘coffee’ ‘dog’ ‘nice.’ Revelations slip through the silences.
The word ‘yes’ is tolled over and over like a bell. (one of the problems with translation: the English word ‘yes’ with its final sibilant does not have the resonance of the Norwegian ‘ja.’ This is not the fault of the translation, which is excellent.The implications in the sound of a word simply doesn’t always translate.)
Fosse has been compared to Pinter and Beckett; for me, he is a descendent of a writer like Materlinck in plays such as ‘The Blind’ which feels almost shocking in a contemporary context.
The Print Room itself has an evocative atmosphere and Simon Usher’s production fits well into the space. The acting is mostly very good, especially Valerie Gogan as the mother and Jennie Gruner as the sister, whose silence is filled with enough unspoken emotions to make another play. Wiliam Troughton managed to be very touching as a friend who drops by. I was less enchanted with Danny Horn as the boy; it was difficult to tell if he was grief stricken or retarded.
The Dead Dogs is not everyone’s cup of tea but it is an intriguing evening and worth seeing as an introduction to Jon Fosse, an important European writer who is not nearly well enough known in this country.
Review by Kate Beswick
The Dead Dogs
15th March – 12th April 2014
The Print Room presents the UK Premiere of THE DEAD DOGS
by Jon Fosse
translated from the Norwegian by May-Brit Akerholt
Friday 21st March 2014