Saturday, 24 November 2012

Heir Of The Dog - review

Written by: Andrew Crane (@AndrewRCrane)

The Dogstar, Brixton

For the evening’s entertainment, Almost Random Theatre offered us 3 bite-sized performances around the theme of God, collectively entitled Heir Of The Dog. Why they chose this title was unclear; it seemed more than an ‘almost random’ label for the theologically themed evening, and these performances certainly shouldn’t be prescribed as a hangover cure.

The first piece, Director Hugh Allison’s Call On Me, showed us the awkward Kyle (Stephen Cheriton) and the coldly sexual Jo (Emilia Petryszyn), rendezvousing in a hotel room, with the intention of photographing their sordid exploits for publicity and money. An interesting premise then for exploring morality and fame in relation to religion, but aside from a couple of mentions of the bible, this piece didn’t really fit under the theme of ‘God’. The intentions of the piece were further confused when themes of AIDS and charity were thrown into the mix, and with dialogue clumsily flitting between realistic and stylistic, it didn't work as a character study. None of the themes were realistically explored, a real shame as this piece started with such potential.

Second in the evening’s line up was Circles, an extract of The Rich Young Man by Michael Dickinson, depicting a brief interaction between Jesus (Denholm Spurr) and Mary Magdalene (Louisa Tee); however without any context from the rest of the play, deciphering what was actually going on proved difficult. Spurr’s Jesus was intriguingly moody and vain, Tee’s Mary was a seductive creation, and perhaps in the context of the whole play these characteristics would have developed into an interesting religious critique. In the context of the extract this was not the case; as entertaining as it was to see Jesus accidentally spray himself in the face with deodorant (obviously not set in biblical times then, so when is this happening?), it was distracting, clashed with the biblical language and made the piece confusing.

Rounding off the evening was Chris Sivewright’s Wonder, which proved one thing: Sivewright doesn’t do subtlety. It opened with Tom (Spurr) mourning the anniversary of his wife’s death alone atop a hill at sun set, only to be joined by three friends. What could have developed into a touching exploration of loss and friendship instead served as a loose premise for the characters to assault us with a barrage of under-developed theological and philosophical ideas, hardly a realistic method of consoling a grieving friend. This unrealistic style prevented any empathy with the characters, so when an ill-advised moment of metatheatre arose and the audience was affronted with the line “This is stupid, I would leave!” we were rather inclined to oblige.

The tuxedo sporting MC Richard Ward added a touch of class to the evening, and although it should be unnecessary, if only he’d given us brief synopsis of each piece, we might have better understood what was being shown. Commendation is due to the charitable intentions of Almost Random, with a proportion of their proceedings donated to The Multiple Sclerosis Society. As a production though, Heir Of The Dog ultimately fails in coherently exploring any of the themes it presented.

For more information on Almost Random Theatre:
@ARTTheatreUK #HeirOfTheDog

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chris sivewright said...

This was not a play about 'consoling a grieving friend.' It was a play about 'Wonder' - hence the name. It had elements of Islam (Arabic, hand) and Buddhism (liquid, urine) the notion of an Evil God plus the idea of who is watching who. It included thought experiments (looking down on stars) and well as comments about round pizzas and square boxes. The theme throughout was to cause the listener to pause and reflect - maybe not too deeply (about the word 'lisp') or perhaps VERY deeply, whether beauty is a sign of a Good God or merely incidental - or even if God exists at all. The characters 'wondered' and the numerous points made were to encourage the audience after the show, to 'wonder' - hence the title of the play. One of the characters was a Philosophy student (hence the comment about philosophy lectures) so the ideas and speech were not unnatural for him. Another character was a part-time comic - hence the numerous comedic attempts. Another character was Polish and a sub-plot was the flirtatation between her and Paul (the comedian). The play is not asking for empathy with characters and is not seeking to 'realistically console' so to criticise it for NOT succeeding at something it was not supposed to be doing is unfair. The play is simply, through the characters,sowing seeds in people's minds that may later cause them to 'wonder' about life, death, good, bad and purpose.

Andrew Crane said...

Hi Chris, thanks for taking the time to read my review, I apologise if you think it's an unfair critique but I try to remain fair, honest and constructive.

I found that the main issue with your piece was not the themes it presented, but the method by which you presented them. Because you opened with a man grieving the loss of his wife, that became the plot for the audience whether intentional or not, and as that plot wasn't followed through you distanced the audience meaning none of the ideas you proceeded to present could land or resonate. The reason I criticised the unrealistic way in which Tom was consoled is that loss and grief offer up such fantastic dramatic potential. Working through these issues would have been cathartic and through this you could have much more effectively explored some of your themes in a much more resonant manner.

In order for an audience to 'wonder' about the themes and ideas you present, they need to relatable. To achieve this the themes and ideas need to be presented through the plot and the characters, if they're presented solely through discussion, then the play becomes a lecture and won't have any dramatic impact. Take for example Tom Stoppard's 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead' - a play that successfully explores themes of existentialism, purpose, life, death, and free will. It does so through the experiences of the titular characters; they experience an existential crisis and they are physically confronted by the issues of purpose and free will. Because the audience empathise with the characters, they experience these things with them and it's this experience which effectively provokes thought on the themes presented. This is what your piece unfortunately lacked, and why I found it unsuccessful in sowing seeds of thought.

I also believe you tried to fit in far too many ideas into such a short piece. The sheer multitude of ideas became overwhelming and is another reason your piece wasn't successful in connecting with the audience.

I hope you find my criticisms constructive, and if there's anything you want clearing up or anything else I, or anyone at What's Peen Seen can help you with, please don't hesitate to ask!



chris sivewright said...

The grieving was the trigger for Tom's thoughts about the nature of God. The accidental meeting up with the others lead not to in-depth discussion but a range of points taking as their start 'God'. There wasn't a 'plot' as such EXCEPT that the whole play's purpose was to cause the audience to think (about one or more points) 'Hmmm, I hadn't thought of that, I wonder....' (Hence the title). There is no need for the audience to empathise - we all die, most of us will know someone who will die before us. There is no need to build a bond between characters and audience as we already have one - in fact near the end of the play there is a suggestion that rather than the characters being on a stage we are all on a stage with a deity watching. It is not a lecture, rather the audience is eavesdropping on a discussion and invited to mentally participate - even after the show. The Stoppard play explores themes whereas Wonder merely introduces them and thus lets the audience 'wonder'. I do not believe the play failed to connect. We saw some characters - one mourning a death - and heard some ideas and thought experiments they were throwing out. This might make us think more as the ideas had barely been covered (this is a strength, not a weakness).

It's not really a case of you 'explaining'. I simply disagree with your review (i.e. the Wonder bit) for the reasons I state BUT I do thank you for your response.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm just really struggling to understand how on Earth an "idea barely being covered" is a strength in any way. I know had I seen this show, I absolutely wouldn't think so.