While pets have long been a mainstay in fiction, stories involving them on the stage have been less frequent… until now. Directed by Sharon Burrell, The Dog/The Cat is a double bill that uses the framing device of pets to explore relationships.
The Dog, which is written by Brendan Cowell, begins very much like the ‘A Talk In The Park’ vignette of Alan Ayckbourn’s Confusions. Ben (Thomas Blackburne) sits quietly on a park bench, drinking beer while his dog runs around. Also there with her dog is ‘Miracle’ (Gemma Harvey) who strikes up a conversation with the taciturn writer.
From the off we can tell Ben and Miracle are worlds apart in terms of temperament, but as in all romantic comedies, we find that beyond Ben’s gruff exterior, that there is a reason for his dour disposition and he’s not such a hard nut to crack. Similarly, there’s more to Miracle that meets the eye and the couple’s regular rendezvous in the park becomes a mutual high point in the week. But Ben isn’t the only person Miracle sees on a regular basis…
Marcus (Frederick Di Rosa) is Ben’s flatmate and shares ownership with the dog. However, they have a dim view of each other and while they have had a falling out, it isn’t because Marcus has been seeing Miracle – though it is to do with ‘boundaries’…
While it could be argued that the The Dog‘s plot is fairly conventional, what gives the play its vivacity is the performances of the actors and the ‘tension’ between stereotypical ‘Aussie’ frankness and British ‘politeness’.
While the dog in the first play is an offstage catalyst for human interaction, the cat in the second play has a much more direct influence. Written by Lally Katz, The Cat offers a surreal take on the domestic tabby and runs with it. Following their break-up, Alex (Gemma Harvey) and Albert (Di Rosa) decide to have shared custody of their feline companion. But as they move on with their lives and see other people, their hitherto silent moggy decides to be proactive.
Blackburne plays the cat, replete with costume and pointy ears. While some people might find this offputing, Blackburne’s feline mannerisms are uncannily accurate and much of what we find funny about his ‘cat’ is its naturalistic accuracy.
While Alex and Albert’s dating efforts provides moments of mirth, it’s the cat’s own response to this state of affairs that provides the most laughs. Unhappy that his ‘parents’ aren’t getting back together, he reveals to them that he can talk – cue both parties fretting about what the cat has seen and told their ex! Cats always look like they’re thinking deeply about something and in this case we find out what’s really on his mind…
While very different in tone and approach to storytelling to the first play, The Cat takes a unique perspective on relationship break-ups and how people’s messy lives look like from the ‘casual’ observer.
© Michael Davis 2018
The Dog/The Cat runs at The Hope Theatre until 22nd September.