Top dog theatre

A Coupla Dogs (Dog Spoon)

Theatre Republic, The Block

September 25 – 29

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‘Two dogs, one kennel, five days”… the tagline of Dog Spoon’s Brisbane Festival show “A Coupla Dogs” perhaps conveys expectations of a playful night out, especially attractive in its palatable 60 minutes running time for those may be suffering from Week Three festival fatigue. The world premiere work by co-writers Director Andrew Cory and Sue Rider, is, however, so much more than just this promise as it takes its audience to some political and also poetic places all within its distinctive dog kennel setting.

It is, as it promises by its tagline, a tale two dogs, Old Dog (Ron Kelly) and Young Dog (Tom Oliver). We don’t know their names, but their personalities pretty quickly become clear. Old Dog is fighter who profanely tells it as it, in straight talk that sits alongside clever dialogue abundant with canine idioms. Immediately, he asserts his dominance over the newly-arrived ‘Christmas dog’, bursting with puppy, eagerness and naïve joy.

We meet them in simple but effective staging at ‘Beryl’s Kennels (Barb Lowing in voice over), a substandard private animal refuge where they await a fate. As they do, they discuss dog philosophy and life in general. And there-in lies the bite to its bark as all sorts of social issues are considered and alluded to, from media impartiality to treatment of our underdogs.

Despite Old Dog’s aggression and essentially pessimistic outlook, it begins quite light-heartedly as legs are humped and the dogs move from playing dead to venturing into the audience in search of tummy-rub-type affection. Then the tone shifts, aided by Jason Glenwright’s lighting design, and things become serious in analogy of the people problems being mirrored to the audience in contemplation of the way we all live and interact on this planet and how we treat our most vulnerable.

While the aesthetics signpost the show’s shift quite dramatically, Kelly and Oliver complement this also in their nuanced guidance towards the ultimately affecting ending. Kelly is memorable in his show of his softer side in contrast to early bravado, in talk of his relationship with his previous owner. And Oliver similarly shows an extensive range in his transition from bumbling puppy to determined enlightenment that every dog will have its day. Indeed, it is difficult to take your eyes off the duo, not just in impress of their obvious stamina and energy to act in entirety as dogs, but due to the engagement created by their physical performances, down to smallest touch such as holding hands as paws for the show’s duration.

There’s no bones about it; this new work is certainly unique, but it is so both in its concept and execution, which makes it interesting as well as entertaining. By using comedy to consider some of the planet’s problems, “A Coupla Dogs” not only leaves us laughing, but provokes its audience to after-show contemplation and conversation, which is exactly as it should be for a festival work.

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