The New Diorama Theatre has to be one of the most interesting small theatres in London. They consistently present unusual new work, performed to a high standard by mostly young and gifted companies. ‘Dog Show’ is no exception.
The play is set on Hampstead Heath (represented by a hat stand, with hats representing branches) and is loosely based on the case of the ‘Hong Kong Dog Serial Killer’.
Four actors accompanied by a musician, create a series of relationships between dogs and their owners. This is almost impossible to describe as owners turned into dogs (not necessarily their own dogs) at a moment’s notice and vice versa.
Dog Show began as a patronising lady lectured us on how to train our dogs. ‘A dog is not a wolf’ she informed us and ‘A dog is not a human’. But as the play went on, dogs and humans came together, separated and while still needing and depending on each other. And. in doing so, acquired shared characteristics and shared communication. The actors shifted from animal to human with ease and rapidity. A runaway dog got out of control, another dog got lost (a running theme through the play) a King Charles Spaniel burst forth with a wonderful paean to her own beauty, a hungry dog growled dinner, dinner, dinner, while his owner frantically searched for a lost tin opener, a man who had lost his dog wandered through the park alone and heartbroken. A couple on holiday could not relax without constant news of their dog, while the carer tried to reassure them and cope with the misbehaving animal at the same time.
The stage was filled with a succession of lonely people seeking comfort and companionship from their dogs and dogs loyally guarding, defending and loving their humans without judgement. Throughout there was also the theme of loss: dogs vanished, dogs came on, sniffed at bits of paper bags (which gradually filled the stage) and disappeared.
People tried to cope without their dogs and found it too painful, a woman tried to replace her dog, but couldn’t forget the companion she had lost.
The story, gently laid in, and increasing in tension, of dying animals, quietly turned into a touching statement about loss and by implication, the end of life. The question of dog poisoning was always there but was never belaboured, although we never lost awareness of it.
The play was funny and charming, the acting was very skilful, and as Dog Show went on and became darker, it drew us in to the deeper needs of dog owners and, yes, of dogs as well. The ending (which I will not reveal) was shocking and entirely unexpected.
This is a truly original piece of work beautifully performed by everyone involved. It was my introduction to Kandinsky and I look forward to whatever they do next. In the meantime, I urge everyone interested in new work to see this play, which is unlike anything playing on London at the moment.
Without any excess or underlining, Dog Show gave us moving observations of our connection to animals and thus to our own humanity.
Review by Kate Beswick
Devised and Written by Kandinsky
The Hong Kong Dog Serial Killer’s been at large since the late 1980s.
Nobody knows what drives them to leave poison-laced meat on popular dog-walking routes – but they’ve been killing strangers’ pets for more than twenty years.
In Dog Show, Kandinsky transposes this bizarre mystery to London, to explore the strange life of dogs in a city home to more than 200,000 of them. Part-silent film, part-thriller, Dog Show considers what man’s best friend has to tell us about love and loneliness, the city and the wild – and what it means to be human.
Four actors and a musician play an entire community of dogs and their owners. One autumn, the killer strikes.
New Diorama Theatre
15 – 16 Triton Street,
London, NW1 3BF
Tue 29 Sept – Sat 17 Oct @ 19:30
No Shows on Sunday and Monday
Saturday 3rd October 2015