Thursday, 22 August 2019

REVIEW: Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse

Dogfight an early musical from the powerhouse duo Pasek and Paul, written just before Dear Evan Hansen. Having previously played at the Southwark Playhouse for the Off West-End debut in 2014, five years later it returns to be performed by the British Theatre Academy. With a five piece band accompanying this intimate, no-interval performance, this show certainly takes you on a journey.

The show is set in 1963 on the eve of three young Marines being deployed to Vietnam. However, when Corporal Eddie Birdlace meets Rose and enlists her to win a cruel bet with his fellow recruits, she opens his eyes to the power of love and compassion and rewrites the game for him.

Dogfight in itself has a lot going for it as a musical – the score is absolutely gorgeous, and a great story - but for me writing wise there are flaws. Ultimately it feels as a show about twenty minutes too short (there are characters I’d have loved to have got to know more about before the abrupt end), although obviously this is not anything that can be added, but I also think it could have done with an interval – there wasn’t enough constant tension in the script to make me feel like a no-interval decision added anything.

For me, the sound, set and lighting for the show were spot on. It kept the show intimate and subtle, minus the strong use of strobe near the end. That strobe was getting too intense for me (although the effect was on the money). Dean Johnson’s direction was good, using the space efficiently without it ever feeling claustrophobic or underused, and giving clarity to the narrative. George Lyons’s choreography was also clever and pitched well with the show, keeping it clean and subtle, all in the style of emphasizing the storyline rather than becoming too dance heavy. Leo Munby’s band were on point, giving technical class and the perfect acoustic for the room, and Mundy’s musical direction ensured that the ensemble created a rich sound with fantastic harmonies! If I’m being critical though, I would have liked sharper cut-offs from the cast as an ensemble – being a small space it’s very exposing.

Stephen Lewis-Johnson as Eddie Birdlace and Claire Keenan as Rose led the company professionally. Both of them had beautiful voices and a fantastic on stage chemistry. Lewis-Johnson gave real grit and naturalism to Birdlace, whilst Keenan’s awkward ticks and mannerisms left the audience falling in love with her. Bernstein and Boland (played by Matthew Michaels and Joe Munn
respectively) gave good accompaniment, with Michaels’s immaturity to Bernstein adding good comic relief.

Overall, this is a beautiful musical that is making a very welcome return to London, and with the talented cast of young actors, is a piece of theatre that will take you on a heartfelt and endearing journey that isn’t one to miss.

Review by Adam Yorke

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: n/a | Price of Ticket: £22

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