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The Dog Walker at Jermyn Street Theatre | Review

The Dog Walker - Credit Robert Workman
The Dog Walker – Credit Robert Workman

Aside from being a distinctly unromantic production to hold a press night for on St Valentine’s Day, The Dog Walker is at times simply bizarre. Keri Levin (Victoria Yeates) is yelling at someone outside through her window. Her conversation with a neighbour (Debora Weston), off-stage, is interrupted by Vlad (uncredited), the ‘super’, Vlad, who tells them to pipe down because they are disturbing others in the vicinity. The super, for those who aren’t in the know, is a sort of maintenance manager for a residential building – anything from sorting out minor leaks to coordinating subcontractors to carry out major refurbishment works.

Herbert Doakes (Andrew Dennis), turns up at Keri’s house, with photo identification, a professional dog walker who has come to, well, take Keri’s dog for a walk. But instead, it’s Keri who barks, even getting down on all fours and crawling on the floor to greet Herbert, who is understandably mystified. Neither character, as it turns out, is particularly likeable – while nobody is perfect, there are a lot of issues in both of their lives that cannot be easily resolved.

I am still in two minds as to whether the play is portraying stereotypes here. There’s the animal lover lady who lives on her own and comes across as eccentric, to say the least. And there’s the born-again Christian man who apparently attends Alcoholics Anonymous and his local church on alternate days but has no qualms with bigamy. His denomination is against the consumption of “stimulating beverages” – though I suspect his church is neutral on that subject and it’s just him who doesn’t drink coffee – and he ends up displaying behaviours that are questionable irrespective of religious disposition.

It doesn’t help, either, that some of the punchlines here aren’t very funny, oozing as they are with infantility (“Did He [Jesus] pay for sin using cash or card? Or PrayPal?”). Keri’s front room, in which the entire play is set, is far from homely but is very much ‘lived in’. Far be it from me, whose own house isn’t the tidiest, to tear into someone else for not having everything in its rightful place: it is only through Herbert’s sheer exasperation that it becomes clear quite how filthy and smelly Keri’s place is. In all the digressions and diversions of the narrative away from the point about Keri’s dog and what has happened to it, is a story that ebbs and flows, with both being stubborn and unyielding. Some in the audience enjoyed it, but your reviewer’s patience was thoroughly tested.

Is there a metaphor in Keri not having ventured outside for some years, trapped psychologically in some way as well as physically? Her mother (also Weston), also off-stage, is a regular visitor, and I would have thought it is relatively easy in New York City to get food and other supplies delivered.

The actors do their best with what they are given (to be blunt, they aren’t given much), and they certainly work hard as the play progresses, and so some credit is due to them for their efforts.

At the end of the day, though, these are characters old enough and intelligent enough to seek the help they need from wherever they wish to seek it from, and while I have some sympathy with the idea of being lonely in a city filled with millions of people, it is difficult to see the humour in a subject matter of that nature. The ending is a tad illogical, given the events almost immediately preceding it, which rather dulled the feeling of a restoration of faith in humanity that the play seemed to be going for.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

I am the most emotionally responsive dog walker in the district.
I scored 4.8 on the City Empathy Test.

As a professional dog walker, you meet all sorts of people, and Herbert has met more than his fair share. But he’s never come across anyone quite like Keri, alone in her flat surrounded by empty ouzo bottles. And where exactly is she keeping her Pekingese dog?

Paul Minx’s story of finding connection in the big city is as moving as it is funny, proving that hope springs in the most unlikely situations.

CAST:
VICTORIA YEATES (Call The Midwife; Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) is playing KERI
ANDREW DENNIS (One Man, Two Guvnors at the National Theatre) is playing DOAKES

Assistant Director – Jessica Walker
Set & Costume Designer – Isabella Van Braeckel
Sound Designer – Fergus O’ Hare
Lighting Designer – Tom Turner
Casting Director – Kate Plantin

The Dog Walker
Wed, 12th February – Sat, 7th March
THE DOG WALKER
By Paul Minx
Directed by Harry Burton
https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/

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