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Review of The Lady With a Dog at the White Bear Theatre

The Lady With a Dog (c) Andreas Lambis
The Lady With a Dog (c) Andreas Lambis

This may be the interwar period, but this isn’t exactly The Great Gatsby. Carl Dennis (Duncan MacInnes) is a local government official and, if I understood correctly, a prospective parliamentary candidate. There’s more political discussion in this adaptation of The Lady With A Dog, about universal suffrage, and the sort of standards of conduct and behaviour politicians are supposed to demonstrate. But talk of the 1923 General Election feels like it is crowbarred into the dialogue as a reminder of certain current affairs of the era, as is the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, where all four on-stage characters find themselves, rather implausibly, in the same section of the same stadium at the same time on the same day.

The title character – that is, the lady with a dog, Anne Dennis (Beth Burrows), on holiday without her other half, is unfazed with regards to the advances of Damian Granville (Alan Turkington), a married banker with children (cue later references to the hyperinflation crisis in Germany – again, not really advancing the narrative, just pointing out major events happening at the time). Fortunately or unfortunately, what starts off as small talk becomes even more than ‘friends with benefits’. What’s more, Damian’s wife Elaine (Laura Glover) knows things aren’t quite what they used to be when Damian’s behaviour becomes markedly different, and remains so for weeks and months after his summer fling.

It’s worth noting that there’s no on-stage dog. The cast do well in behaving as though there were one, for the most part – it might have, technically speaking, been stepped on at one point. It emerged unscathed, presumably having moved out of the way just in time. That isn’t the only imagining going on. It took a while for me to realise that some of the dialogue between the four characters (in various combinations) is dreamt up. The lines between what is real and what is someone’s perception of what someone else would say if they were present in that moment become increasingly blurred.

There’s some gentle humour, although one or two punchlines don’t work all that well, whether or not Damian’s way with words and the general manner in which women were perceived and treated by society at large at the time are taken into account. Particularly in the first half, the production feels as though it is moving too slowly. In the second, there could have been a lot more verve and passion given the various dangers – to all four characters – of Damian and Anne’s ongoing affair.

Commensurate with the period in which the play is set, lines are delivered in a measured manner, even when characters are speaking in the privacy of either a hotel room or their own home. Indeed, when the two couples are finally introduced to each other in a very public setting, the production is at its loudest and its most riveting. It’s also a socially awkward moment, and thus comical. But some of the tension from Chekhov’s story from which this show has been adapted has been lost as it strives for laughs over poignancy. Some features, however, remain, such as the fence outside Carl and Anne’s house that symbolises a sense of confinement within their marriage.

The costumes (Giulia Scrimeri) are excellent. In the end, it takes longer to watch this show than it does to read the Chekhov tale. It’s called a ‘short story’ for a reason, and this production stretches out a narrative too thinly. This sort of show has the potential, with the clipped accents and clean humour, to be up there with Noel Coward comedies, but this one has got to become a lot sharper and pacier to be an unqualified hit.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omweng

Damian Granville is a banker and devoted family man with an unconventional way of taking his summer holidays: he travels alone and looks for a woman to seduce. This particular year he spots a beautiful young lady walking a white Pomeranian dog. How can he resist? He’s a skilful player and sure of success. Except Anne Dennis isn’t quite what he bargains for.

The Lady With a Dog
Director and Playwright Mark Giesser
Cast: Alan Turkington, Beth Burrows, Duncan MacInnes
Producer Alces Productions
Performance Dates February 20th 2017 – March 10th 2017
Running Time 90 mins
https://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk/

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