For a period of 20 year in Hong Kong poison-laced meat was planted on a popular dog-walking route resulting in the deaths of many animals; despite police involvement to this day no one knows why. This chilling and unnerving story is the kind of thing which strikes fear in the hearts of dog lovers everywhere. In their new devised piece, Kandinsky has transposed these events to the streets of London, creating a lens through which they explore the intricacies of love and loneliness between man and man’s best friend.
Four actors and a musician play an entire community of dogs and their owners. The staging is minimal, everything feels measured and deliberate. There’s a duet between the physicality of the performances and the elegance and concision of the storytelling; as a whole it’s very well balanced, and funny too, the kind of theatre which tickles its audience: accessible, inventive, entertaining.
This is thanks in great part to the strength of the ensemble. These guys work together like a well oiled machine: even the silent scene changes are exciting. The use of light and sound also adds to the atmosphere of the piece: a green baize and flickering strip-lights creating a space which is both park-like and forbiddingly urban. The actors move from scene to scene effortlessly, tackling the physical demands of the piece with energy. We are told repeatedly throughout the show that ‘your dog is not a human’ but all four cast members, Lisa Kerr, Hamish Macdougall, Ntonga Mwanza, and Harriet Webb, make pretty convincing dogs – tongues lolling, legs cocking, necks straining as they play pugs, mastiffs and spaniels – it never feels silly and over-done. The performers evident trust in this world they have made and in each other is why the show works as well as it does.
Together they create a whole community. There’s a real sense of social commentary at work here too as they explore the pet-and-owner relationship and its complexities. The world is completed by Zac Gvirtzman’s music. He is perched downstage right and throughout the show he builds soundscapes which transform the mood and shape of the space. The alto saxophone carries us into the park with the dog walkers, a clarinet screams as a blind man and his guide dog confront speeding traffic, an eerie quivering signals the presence of the villain, the mystery poisoner. There’s even a musical number in honour of the King Charles Cavalier spaniel.
The overriding sense here is one of dependency: that we need dogs as much as they need us. Dog Show is a clever bit of work on many levels, and one that’s accessible to everyone, not just dog lovers, but anyone who has ever known loneliness.