Review: Dog Show, New Diorama

We are all here with our dogs, we are told, and we have come to see a dog show. This is just the start of a series of unfailingly imaginative vignettes derived from interlinking stories, about the lives of owners and their dogs. The company, Kadinsky, have created an impressive production – intelligent, brave and incredibly funny.

The initial stimulus for Dog Show was the ‘Hong Kong Dog Serial Killer’, who since the 1980s, has been maliciously leaving poisoned meat for dogs. Kadinsky shifts this story to North London. The four actors, Lisa Kerr, Hamish Macdougall, Ntonga Mwanza and Haz Webb – with an astounding score from multi-talented musician Zac Gvi – perform as a myriad of characters from the Hampstead Heath dog-walking community. From the blind Keith with his guide dog to award-winning Greer and her owner, each character, and dog, breathes life. To the credit of these talented four, the result is that we are left with the feeling that we have seen a much larger cast.

Most striking to this production, all of the four actors become dogs, demonstrating an astounding level of physical and vocal commitment. Panting wildly, pawing and nosing at their owners, they go beyond simply embodying dogs, to capture the essence of different breeds, ranging from the yapping pug to the memorably sophisticated beagle. These are performances that have clearly grown out of close study and extended periods of exploration. The company also subtly portray moments where animal and human blends, as we see the occasional glimpse of an actor seeming to become a vision of a primal human, a frightening monster.

The overall aesthetic of the show is pronounced. The writer/director team and founders of the company, Al Smith and James Yeatman, have worked together to create a truly magical theatrical experience, reminiscent of the style of Complicite. They maintain an endearingly rough-and-ready feel through exposing character transformation. Through devised techniques, the cast are in control of many of the scenic storytelling elements – they carry lights, chairs, and fans, filling the studio space with movement.

The script could have been a tiny bit more polished, with a few ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ deleted, and perhaps a couple of moments cut to create a bit more breathing space. However, these were minor elements in a complex and rich production. Sitting at the centre of this wonderfully generous piece of storytelling is a simple and clear message: we are all seeking connections, whether human or canine.

Dog Show is playing at New Diorama until 17 October. For more information and tickets, see the New Diorama website. .