The Delights Of Dogs And The Problems Of People


Old Red Lion Theatre

The Delights Of Dogs And The Problems Of People

The Delights Of Dogs And The Problems Of People

Old Red Lion Theatre

Reviewed – 9th January 2020



“however hard it may be to watch, it constantly grabs the attention”


A two-hander about the breakdown of a marriage compared to the loyalty shown by pet dogs might seem an odd take on the oft-dramatised subject of relationships, but in Rosalind Blessed’s play The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People it becomes a nuanced and unsettling affair.

Staged as part of a double bill of her work at the Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington (alongside Lullabies for the Lost), there’s an opportunity to see each piece as an individual drama or across an afternoon and evening. Both are well worth seeing.

The title of this play, first seen four years ago, might suggest a jaunty romcom but the truth of the hard-hitting drama is far more harrowing. What starts out as a tender and quirky love story involving a couple who met while at university unravels into a terrifying 70 minutes of obsession, possessiveness and violence.

In some exceptionally clever and mature writing, Blessed constantly shifts the balance (and audience sympathies) between the pair who have been married for five years, yet separated for two of them.

On the one hand is James, an easy-going charmer desperate to save his marriage (he describes himself sadly as a “very nearly ex-husband”) and convincing when he tells friends that he has no idea why things are breaking down so badly. It is an intricate performance from Duncan Wilkins, who even draws members of the audience into his side of the argument.

But as the cracks begin to show we discover a manipulative monster who wants to “put his wife back together,” a hateful tyrant who refuses to accept the truth or to understand his wife’s delicate mental state.

Blessed gives an equally fine performance as Robin (the same character from Lullabies for the Lost, but in an alternate universe version), whose insecurities about her image and low self esteem leave her vulnerable. She is unable to let go of the damaging relationship yet her true feelings are exposed shockingly when she cries out “I never want any man to own any part of me ever again.”

This see-saw relationship never seems less than believable and Blessed has admitted that parts of it are drawn from experience, which certainly comes out in vivid writing and performance.

The unconditional love of a dog is contrasted with the volatility of a partner who swings between unbridled declarations of affection and rage caused by too much drink and an unwillingness to accept the end of a relationship. In a clever twist when we see the loyal Staffie he is played by Wilkins, who is so much in character that he sniffs the legs of audience members or sneezes into their faces.

As the layers are unpeeled we begin to understand the truth of the situation, which builds to a horrific climax. With domestic abuse not all the scars are visible, with words having the terrible power to wound, yet psychotic behaviour will ultimately cause an individual to lose control.

Director Caroline Devlin understands the strength of the script and allows the words and characters to tell their own story while Anna Kezia’s cardboard box white set (shared with Lullabies for the Lost) is simple but multi-functional.

It is the sort of well-written and acted drama that inevitably comes with its own warning about the distressing content and will resonate uncomfortably with many. But however hard it may be to watch, it constantly grabs the attention, providing a darker but important facet to understanding the truth about relationships – and how we might treat each other better.


Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Natalie Wells


The Delights Of Dogs And The Problems Of People

Old Red Lion Theatre until 1st February


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
In Search Of Applause | ★★ | February 2019
Circa | ★★★★ | March 2019
Goodnight Mr Spindrift | ★★ | April 2019
Little Potatoes | ★★★ | April 2019
The Noises | ★★★★ | April 2019
Flinch | ★★★ | May 2019
The Knot | ★★★★ | June 2019
Edred, The Vampyre | ★★★½ | October 2019
Last Orders | ★★★ | October 2019
Blood Orange | ★★★★ | December 2019


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