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Posted by : RodDungate on Mar 15, 2018 - 02:49 PM RSC
London
The Dog Beneath the Skin by W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood
3***

Jermyn Street Theatre(short walk from Piccadilly Circus) until 31st March
http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/dog-beneath-skin/
125 minutes including interval

Veronica Stein, 14th March, 2018.

Stylish performances for a script that lacks real substance 


In the quaint English town of Pressan Ambo, Alan Norman (Pete Ashmore) has been chosen as the most recent delegate to go out in search of Frances, a Pressan local who has been missing for a decade. In return for his efforts- should he be successful-he will marry Frances’s sister, (Rujenne Green). With his trusty new canine friend by his side (Cressida Bonas), he goes off on a madcap tour through 1930s Europe, including cabaret halls and corrupt train compartments, executions and asylums, and of course, political despotism and intrigue. Upon his return home, nothing is the same.

The Jermyn Street theatre has been quite ambitious in its Scandal season and its culminating production follows suit. Auden and Isherwood, though masters in their own right, get a bit indulgent with the poetry in this particular work- when everything is a rhyming couplet it all seems to sound a bit like mush, and it doesn’t help when plenty of important details (settings, for example) are imaginary. The commentary in many moments is prescient and pertinent, but seems to stifle the narrative in its entirety. The satire is so busy developing that the characters stay stock still. The cautionary ending is perhaps the most successful chapter of the evening, but it takes entirely too long to get there.

All of this is not to say that the performances are lacking, for despite the style over substance of the script, the multi-roling cast do their best to tell the story for what it’s worth. Pete Ashmore and Cressida Bonas as the only actors playing singular characters do well to maintain a focal point in the revolving door of location and characters around them, with Bonas doing an admirable job of physicalizing the titular dog while maintaining a sense of the surreal as opposed to the ridiculous. Edmund Digby Jones and Eva Feiler are also spectacular in their comic timing and their care in respecting the genre. Feiler’s piano work is almost as absorbing as her many turns as pseudo-narrator (though her pre-recorded narration could do with a bit more energy), and Digby Jones succeeds in his mutifarious endeavors. As a tyrannical vicar brings purpose and much needed vitality to the ending of The Dog Beneath the Skin.

Rebecca Brower’s design work is also excellent, for having visited Jermyn Street many times I can confidently say the playing space has never looked so large or multi-dimensional. With such a relatively large cast, Ste Clough’s movement direction clarifies the many transitions and musical chairs. Though the music does not often advance the happenings on stage, it is executed with grace and the opening and closing number is haunting and effective.
The Dog Beneath the Skin at the Jermyn Street Theatre as produced by Proud Haddock makes sense out of disorganized source material with confidence and many standout performances. In Isherwood’s seminal work, Sally Bowles is memorable not only for her story but for who she is- I can’t say that any of the characters in The Dog Beneath the Skin carry the same privilege. Beneath the skin of the Dog Beneath the Skin is a powerful message- it just takes a lot of sifting to get to it.

Credits

Alan Norman: Pete Ashmore
The Dog: Cressida Bonas
Ensemble: Edmund Digby Jones, Eva Feiler, Rujenne Green, Suzann Mclean, James Marlowe, Adam Sopp

Director: Jimmy Walters
Designer: Rebecca Brower
Lighting Designer: Catherine webb
Sound Design: Dinah Mullen
Music: Jeremy Warmsley
Movement Director: Ste Clough

 
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