Originally broadcast as part of the BBC’s ‘Play for Today’ series in 1984, Dog Ends by Richard Harris is a black comedy set in the living room of a family home in East London. Harris has updated and adapted the play for the modern stage, and its premiere marks the reopening of the Tabard Theatre, in Chiswick.
Set in the not-so-distant future, George Spooner and his family are under an increasing amount of emotional and financial pressure as they care for George’s elderly father and their aged dog, Rinty. When George discloses his family’s situation to their neighbour Henry, his well-to-do friend recommends the services of an in-demand ‘vet’. In a grave misunderstanding, the unorthodox methods of this veterinary surgeon result in an unexpected casualty. Having neglected to read the terms and conditions of the procedure administered by the specialist, the Spooners suffer a loss that is made transparent by a certain ‘confidentiality clause’.
Designed by Mike Leopold, the authenticity of the Spooner’s living room is most impressive. Complete with skirting boards, the set looks as though it is ready to welcome the recording of a television programme rather than a theatrical performance. The furniture is orientated perfectly, this undeniable Feng Shui further encapsulating the finer details of interior design. Fitted with a cream carpet and striped wallpaper, an old-fashioned lampshade hangs above the stage, casting a lilac hue over the quintessential English home.
Harris’ script captures a family dynamic across three generations. Permeated with patriotic proverbs, the dialogue negotiates comedy and austerity flawlessly. The financial and sentimental value of Grandad Spooner (played by Bryan Hands) and Rinty are juggled expertly by the cast of seven. Together, they explore the fatality of old age in the era of the shrinking welfare state, consistently rewarding the audience with side-splitting humour. The character of Beatrice (played by Anita Graham) demonstrates a particular comic deftness. Graham’s intellectually absent Mrs Spooner has an amazing ability to come in at the dog end of every conversation, and without fail, finishes it with a joke that floors both cast and audience alike.
Directed by Keith Strachan, Dog Ends confronts the inevitability of death, and tackles the “survival of the un-fittest” in the age of a new government-provided service. In a two-act evening of dark humour, Harris successfully proves that life isn’t too short to read the small print.
Dog Ends is playing at the Tabard Theatre until April 15.