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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

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Lullabies For The Lost

★★★★

Old Red Lion Theatre

Lullabies For The Lost

Lullabies For The Lost

Old Red Lion Theatre

Reviewed – 9th January 2020

★★★★

 

“At times there is a distinct Twilight Zone vibe, with the exact setting a mysterious and surreal uncertainty”

 

Airing dirty laundry in public is rarely a helpful exercise. But in Rosalind Blessed’s new play Lullabies for the Lost the sharing of secrets and anxieties becomes a step on the path to healing.

The piece is being staged in rep at the Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington (alongside her play The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People), with chances to see each piece separately or across an afternoon and evening.

The two plays complement each other and Blessed has suggested that they exist in parallel realities. Significantly they both feature canine heroes, dogs which play their part in helping troubled people to move on, offering unconditional love.

This longer and newer play is more obviously about mental health, inhabited as it is by eight very different people relating struggles ranging from eating disorders to childlessness through depression and anxiety.

On an effective clinical white set (Anna Kezia Williams) on which white boxes are scattered and used for furniture eight characters are in search of an escape from their various issues. There is a sense that sharing with others is an important part of the process but it is initially unclear who they are – a gathering of supportive friends? A therapy group? A heavenly waiting room?

As each tells their story they gaze at a locked door hoping that this time it will open and allow them to exit rather than constantly having to relive their narrative. At times there is a distinct Twilight Zone vibe, with the exact setting a mysterious and surreal uncertainty.

For one, apparently newer, member of the group, Larry (a performance of studied apprehension from Chris Porter) there is a fear of going out, a secret demon urging his nervous side not to bother.

Another, Nerys, (Kate Tydman) has turned to collecting – not hoarding, she assures us – envious of a rat in her house who can have hundreds of babies while she constantly suffers miscarriages.

Then there’s Sarah (Helen Bang, exuding a confidence plagued by low self worth) a sensitive and lonely soul who has given up on love, wrapping herself in cotton wool of banality, and “Brothers Grimm” Tim (Liam Mulvery) and Jez (Nick Murphey), both having contemplated suicide but each unaware of the other’s state of mind.

As emotions are laid bare we understand the importance of communication, the need to share and concentrate on the light rather than the darkness. Shades of lighting (Mark Dymock) contrast the brightness of the characters relating to and opening up to each other and the relative dimness of inner conflict.

Rosalind Blessed plays Robin, a bulimic suffering from low self image, while Ash (an edgy Duncan Wilkins) is a cynical and sarcastic anorexic confined to an eating disorder unit.

It is only when we hear from Andy (a powerful and ardent Chris Pybus) that we sense anyone sees light at the end of the tunnel. Although feeling that he is stuck in mud, a rescue dog helps him to look beyond himself and his self-judging depression.

Blessed’s writing ensures that each of these people matter and the audience (occasionally addressed directly) are on their side, not only wanting them to face up to their anxieties and inner conflicts but to conquer them.

While often uncomfortably intense there are welcome bursts of humour and a relief that these likeable individuals encourage one another to be positive and hopeful.

As “Ma” appears (a warm film cameo from Blessed’s mother, Hildegard Neil) as an affirming voice from beyond confinement, there is a crucial message about sharing issues, not wasting life, the value of looking for purpose through beauty, love, nature, laughter, art and sport instead of meaningless self-obsession.

Lullabies for the Lost is a wise and important contribution to understanding mental health issues, not least underlining the valuable and vital role of sharing and realising you need never suffer alone.

 

Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Adam Trigg

 


Lullabies For The Lost

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

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews