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the dog / the cat at The Hope Theatre, London | Review

the dog / the catCommissioned by Belvoir Theatre in Sydney and following two extended sell-out seasons, The Dog / The Cat makes its London debut at The Hope Theatre in Islington, running until the 22nd of September 2018.

Not quite a double bill and not quite a single flowing unit, The Dog/The Cat is a play in two halves, sharing some references and with much the same minimalist staging. The performance opens with The Dog, the story of Ben (Thomas Blackburne) and his friend/flatmate Marcus (Frederick De Rosa) taking their shared dog to the park and separately meeting Miracle (Gemma Harvey) and falling for her charms.

The story begins with Ben feeling bad after his divorce and having fallen out with Marcus after an indiscretion involving Ben’s ex-wife. As the story unfolds, Ben begins to regain his energy and happiness while Marcus, previously happy and successful, falls on harder times. Miracle, knowing they are both fond of her (one more honourably than the other) makes a ploy to get them to talk again and rekindle their friendship and the section ends on a heart-warming reunion.

Following a brief comfort break to reset the stage, part two The Cat begins and there are some familiar elements to the initial sequences but with a few roles changes; Di Rosa now plays the character of Albert who is in the process of breaking up with his wife Alex – Gemma Harvey’s character – but this time rather than bonding with each other and others over a Dog, they are fighting over custody of their Cat. The first twist to this section is that the cat in question is played by Blackburne. And a fine job he does of it too.

The custody dynamic shifts as Albert and Alex find new partners and eventually Cat finds himself somewhat superfluous and taking umbrage to this, reveals that he can talk. The surrealistic note of this continues through the production then until the end where Cat is a Rap Star living the high-life in Vegas where Albert and Alex have got back together and re-married.

Sounds odd? It is. And The Cat stands out massively from The Dog despite some shared references and continuations of established jokes. The continuity is a nice touch, however, that takes the edge off the sudden change of pace, warming the audience to what might otherwise be a bit of leap in terms of suspension of belief compared to the more traditional style of The Dog.

For me, The Dog played more to what I enjoy and the single setting ‘day in the life’ presentation worked very well. The two strong male characters were offset well by Harvey’s understated portrayal of university lecturer Miracle and when it is revealed that she has been orchestrating their reunion behind the scenes it brings her character into more focus without trying to split the centre stage too many ways.

In contrast, The Cat had some excellent moments and Blackburne’s feline movements were a pleasure to watch but for me, the outbreaks of unexpected song and the sudden shift from realistic to surrealistic were too great a leap and it didn’t quite hit the spot. In contrast, my other half felt the precise opposite and loved the boundary-pushing elements of The Cat while feeling there were too few stand-out moments in The Dog.

The Dog/The Cat is an ambitious and daring piece of theatre that presents much more content than its duration would lead you to expect and fitting two fully introduced and closed out independent stories in two very different styles into one production length is impressive. Unfortunately for me, I think there were aspects of the piece that were underdeveloped as a result and my lasting impression was that we had been offered more a taster of two productions than the finished article leaving me wondering what it would have been like had either the story been a direct continuation written in two very different styles or if both mini-plays had been expanded into their own production.

3 Star Review

Review by Damien Russell

It’s the quintessential human story of sex, heartbreak, love, and dogs in a park, in fact, it could be called Two Men, One Woman, a Park and a Dog – because everyone knows that nothing breaks the ice like a cute dog. Brendan Cowell’s (star of Yerma, Life of Galileo) play The Dog paints a not-so-flattering portrait of the tricky line between friendship and romance, and of the insatiable appetite of Jack Russell terriers for the most disgusting things they can find.

Owning a cat is not easy. Co-owning a cat with your ex is less easy. Co-owning a smart-talking, irritable and meddling cat with your ex is pure comedy. Lally Katz (Back at the Dojo, Stories I Want to Tell You in Person) brings her trademark charm and surreal humour to The Cat.

The London debut of this romantic and comedic delight is set to be a big hit after two extended sell-out seasons in Sydney.

CAST: Gemma Harvey, Frederick Di Rosa, Thomas Blackburne

CREATIVES:
Producer Right Forward High
Director Sharon Burrell
Lighting Design Chris McDonell
Sound Design Jodie Muncey
Composition and Rap Lyrics Stefan Gregory
Movement Director Laura Weston
PR Manager Lauren Gauge

the dog / the cat
writers: BRENDAN COWELL & LALLY KATZ / director: SHARON BURRELL
4 – 22 Sept 2018
http://www.thehopetheatre.com/

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