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DOG HAIR at VAULT Festival

The times they are a-changin’”, as Bob Dylan put it – and as a deceased woman’s grandson (Phillip Jones) returns home to attend the funeral, the decline of the hometown since he left has only exacerbated. His mother (Sarah Rickman) is still in the family home, while her partner Mike (Raphael Von Blumenthal) doesn’t think much of the young man. When those feelings are reciprocated, the celebration of the return of the prodigal son that the mother had hoped for, somewhat muted as it was going to be in any event against the backdrop of a funeral, not only fails to materialise but is thoroughly incinerated.

Dog HairThis, therefore, has the hallmarks of a play that has been done before, complete with a man-to-man showdown in the form of verbal linguistics, to give it a diplomatic description, or a trade of insults, to tell it like it is. Even cans of beer come out at one point in an attempt at a peace offering. Mam, as her son calls her, eventually steps in with the kind of response that even the most risk-taking of family therapists are unlikely to recommend. Some of the audience’s laughter in response may well have been nervous giggles, but on the whole, I thought it indicative of the show’s dark sense of humour, which went well with the environment the narrative created. The area was once something of a regional powerhouse, but that was then, and this is now.

The idea that this is where people merely survive as opposed to fully live and realise their ambitions is underlined in mother and son’s well-drilled reactions to what they believe are bailiffs at the front door. Mike, it appears, is more used to a more comfortable lifestyle: his partner has been switched to a pre-payment meter for energy. When Mam and Son (as the characters are listed) have some time together, it is not at a music venue, restaurant, pub, cinema or theatre – it is at home, thinking about what they can watch, with their choices limited to shows on terrestrial channels – forget Netflix or Amazon Prime. Still, it is where they live, and when a plan is finally revealed that Mike describes as a route to “a better life”, it is rebuffed in the strongest terms.

Set in the current era (Jeremy Clarkson, we’re told, has been hosting Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? for some time now), nostalgia is nonetheless created, whether it’s through a hi-fi and a pile of compact discs in the front room, or Mike wanting to know where the boy is, only for Mam to reply that she doesn’t know – that is to say, she’s not going to take out her smartphone (does she even have one?) and send him a message on WhatsApp. Dealing with the deceased’s estate, meanwhile, involves boxes of paperwork, with neither a laptop nor even a landline in sight.

Set entirely in Mam’s front room, some key events are described rather than acted out – the audience is not aware, for instance, of exactly what transpired at or after the funeral that led to yet another terse exchange between Mike and Son at home thereafter. The show concludes on a cliffhanger and doesn’t present any neat solutions to a complex situation.

Not tidying up loose ends works for this production, and while its characters find themselves in a series of problems seemingly insurmountable, their resilience and fortitude thus far didn’t leave me overly concerned for their futures. I trust this is the play’s point – the working class do not need knights in shining armour, sugar daddies or large inheritances to live their lives. Some committed and passionate performances give this bittersweet and deeply human show a lot of light in the story’s darkness.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Humour, warmth, unstereotyped working-class bite, charm and tenderness combine in DOG HAIR: the story of a working-class mother & son navigating grief and loss in the small industry-formed town that’s shaped them. Feeling trapped and separate from their home, DOG HAIR is about the struggle between place and identity, and how ‘No matter how far you go from home, you’ll always have dog hair on your clothes’.

Cast & Creative Team
Playwright / Actor (Son) – PHILLIP JONES
Producer – RACHEL THOMAS
Director – KARAN DESAI
Movement Director – REBECCA WILSON

https://vaultfestival.com/

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