Friday, 24 March 2017

REVIEW: Dog Ends at the Tabard Theatre

Richard Harris has a prestigious list of writing credits dating back on TV into the sixties with shows like The Avengers, The Saint, Hazel, Shoestring, Darling Buds of May and a Touch of Frost but was best known to me as the writer of the excellent comedy Outside Edge set in a cricket pavilion and the wonderful Stepping Out now enjoying a fresh revival with Amanda Holden at the Vaudeville. It was therefore a surprise to find him sitting at the back of the intimate Tabard Theatre for a world premiere of his latest play Dog End.

The play is an updated version of his 1984 TV script for BBC’s Play for today schedule. Its basic premise of the growing pressures in today's society of social care for an ageing population, at the dog end of their lives ,is of course highly topical and very serious and the play is billed as a dark comedy. In fact it is very much a play of two halves.

The first act is familiar TV sitcom territory, set in the sitting room of a suburban house with central husband and wife characters who might have been George and Mildred, Victor and Margaret Meldrew or Hyacinth and Richard Bucket. Here they are George played with a hangdog expression by Nick Wilton and Beatrice his long suffering wife played by Anita Graham. The eight scenes portray familiar modern life with a family Christmas, dying neighbours, children on their phones constantly, a new born baby and the ever present aged Dad, beautifully played by Bryan Hands with his decrepit dog at his feet. There are plenty of strong laughs from the situation but as it progresses the darker development begins with the arrival of a specialist vet played by a creepy Christian Anholt and the audience naturally feels unease and the laughter is more uncomfortable. 

The second act feels very different with the restriction of a single location impacting the plot development. Most of the comic opportunities around the disposal of a body take place off stage in the street, the garden, a neighbours
house and elsewhere in the town and have to be retold by characters. The characters become mouthpieces for the arguments around how society should deal with the growing social care of the elderly and in particular for state sponsored selective euthanasia. It moves away from situational comedy to social comment and the act feels a bit like work in progress.

Nevertheless the Tabard has done well to attract a strong cast which also includes Jeffery Holland as the neighbour Henry, an experienced director in Keith Strachan, and a very good looking set designed by Michael Leopold. These small community theatres deserve to be supported as they create theatre like this, amusing, challenging and good value.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★

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