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Dead Dad Dog by John McKay at Finborough Theatre

How refreshing to come across a play that sets out purely and simply to entertain, and which succeeds completely! Dead Dad Dog is such a piece of writing, though it is not new, it was first performed thirty-five years ago when it was highly successful both at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, and at the Royal Court in London, but rarely since. How typical of Neil Pearson at Finborough Theatre to have rediscovered this witty “light comedy” – rediscovering “lost” plays is perhaps what this tiny theatre does best!

Dead Dad Dog - Credit Lidia Crisafulli.
Dead Dad Dog – Credit Lidia Crisafulli.

John McKay, the playwright, now perhaps better known as a director for film and television, says that he wrote it “at the very beginning of my path as a writer and maker of drama… I was also a bit drunk – it was started one Christmas Eve… back home in my childhood single bed with a school pen and bit of paper…..fuelled by the early death of my own father… I was 22”. This energetic, funny play is beautifully constructed in a series of short scenes with two wonderful roles and, at 65 minutes, is just the right length.

The premise is that Eck (Angus Miller) wakes up one morning excited and full of energy because he has an interview for a producing job with BBC Scotland. His day is quickly upset, however, by the arrival of his father Willie (Liam Brennan) – who died twelve years ago! His day is even more upset when he finds that he cannot get away from Willie owing to a force field and has to take him to his interview, a date with his girlfriend, a night club and many other places! The audience quickly accepts this surreal plot and becomes involved in the relationship between father and son, with many laughs along the way.

Liam Brennan is very successful as ‘Dad’, having an enormous variety of facial expressions. Angus Miller uses his physicality to express his frustrations and coping strategies. Each has a wonderful sense of humour, extracting every possible laugh from the script and relishing the author’s use of language and situation, such as the scene where Eck is trying to have a bath – with his father sitting watching him – and of course, commenting!

Often the two are asked to speak directly to the audience, which works very well, and other characters are imagined, but this all seems totally logical in the scheme of things, because the piece is so well devised, acted and directed. In fact, Liz Carruthers’ direction speeds Dead Dad Dog effortlessly, each scene blending smoothly into the next with nothing overstaying its welcome. Time passes all too quickly and ‘real life’ is totally suspended for the duration of this light-hearted piece of froth, even though it probably encourages most of the audience to recall the relationship they had with their own fathers.

Alex Marker has designed a simple set consisting of a collage of 1980s posters in black, white and red, and Rachel Sampley has provided simple video projections that quickly make it easy to see where each scene is supposed to take place without ever seeming obtrusive, as does Julian Starr’s ‘simple’ sound design.

This is one of those plays that sends you out of the theatre totally contented, as if all is right with the world(!), a moment of much-needed escapism. Highly recommended – if you get a chance to see it during the next two weeks, do take it. They don’t write plays like this these days!!!! ENJOY!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

Young Alexander Dundee – Eck to his friends – is sharply ambitious, sexed-up and in a hurry, and eagerly awaiting the job interview that will change his life.

Little does he anticipate the sudden appearance of the spectre of his long-dead father, Wullie, a lugubrious ex-Hoover salesman – a flare-trousered 1970s picture of Caledonian cheesiness.

When they discover they can’t be further than a few feet apart without painful consequences, Eck is plunged into a blackly comic nightmare as he tries to survive the day with his dead father in tow…

by John McKay
Tuesday, 3 October 2023 – Saturday, 28 October 2023

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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