There are no props at all in Dog, and yet despite a dog, Roy, being very much a key character, the staging and dialogue are more effective than they are over at 101 Dalmatians at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – money really doesn’t buy everything. Some news headlines from a generation ago about football hooliganism in various places and racial tensions in London’s Brick Lane and surrounding streets immediately puts the show in context. It’s tempting to think this is a show of its time, of a different era, though I would argue that aside from things like the dog owner not having a mobile telephone, his beliefs still exist within society, even if they are less prevalent.
Still, a particular derogatory term is uncomfortable hearing, as it should be, especially when it’s repeated as often as it is here. The hot-headed dog owner whose pet is practically as aggressive and confrontational as he is finds himself barred from various places, and therefore spends the majority of his spare time at home, quite literally one man and his dog. Single-performer plays often have single-performer perspectives, so it’s refreshing to see another viewpoint, even if it is an anthropomorphic one. Roy displays unsurprising annoyance at the play’s events. That Roy’s owner finds it hard to keep him under control, stumbling about while he consistently tugs at his lead, could be interpreted as a metaphor for other aspects of the owner’s life: both literally and figuratively, he is easily led.
Actor, the second half of this double-bill, focuses on the entertainment industry. The audience knows this nameless character is an actor because he mentions it to everyone who listens, as well as those who don’t. The trouble is that it seems that most people he knows are booking jobs in theatre, film or television, and while he attends numerous auditions, none of them results in paid work. It’s suggested he gets a job – anything at all, until the next acting gig comes along – but he insists he must be available for acting work.
If the sheer repetitiveness of the play is soul-destroying, it’s done its job, reflecting the sometimes brutal nature of showbusiness. The play suggests that the industry is seldom as meritocratic as it makes itself out to be. There’s some dark humour in the actor’s reactions to the news that so-and-so has work lined up, and his frustrations become increasingly palpable. Stephen Smith does a good job in transitioning between the central character and his various friends and acquaintances, whilst maintaining the production’s brisk pace.
One need not necessarily be an actor to relate – there have been times in my own life when I’ve put in job application after job application, attended interview after interview, only to be told there wasn’t any negative feedback the panel could give me, but they’ve decided nonetheless to go with another candidate. At least Smith’s character from a generation ago had phone calls telling him he’d been unsuccessful. These days there might not be as much as a text message: he would be more likely to find out through a cast announcement that someone else got the role he went for.
Both short plays were very physically demanding, and left the audience wanting more, which, as I have often said, is far better than outlasting one’s welcome. Two very different plays, performed with equal gusto and conviction.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Two explosive and hilarious plays written by Steven Berkoff, performed back-to-back by the same one actor.
The first play: DOG follows a day in the life of a racist football hooligan and his beloved blood-thirsty pitbull terrier, Roy, who changes his life. The second: ACTOR is a spoken word monologue which delves into the heart of the acting industry, humorously and poignantly portraying the trying life of a struggling artist.
Without the use of any set or props, DOG/ACTOR presents a masterclass in physical theatre and comedic storytelling, promising a thrilling theatrical experience.
2nd August 2022