Hot Dog The Last RefugeSarah Kosar’s new play Hot Dog is an intriguing, conceptual piece that immediately gets the audience asking loads of questions. Transporting us to small town America, Maryanne, her husband, and eventually her sister are forced to look after their mother. Their mother has become a dog. The play’s consistent dark humour probes at what happens when we loose our humanity, while tackling the issues of aging, illness and loyalty.

The two daughters cannot really be said to care much for their mother, though they make dutiful attempts to appear as though they do. Older daughter Maryanne forces the responsibility onto her sister, Carol, who seems more interested in pursuing impossible love affairs with old flames. Both daughters do their best to attempt to overcome their longing to abandon their bitter, lonely mother though they eventually give in to their desires.

The exploration of children being forced to choose between caring for their parents and living for themselves is portrayed with sensitivity and wit. This is a subject that has wide-reaching relevance; it is a torment many find themselves going through at some point. Kosar here finds something very interesting and indeed the play might have benefitted from more focus to really make this theme hit home. None of the characters are exactly likeable but there is something apt about that, though more balance could make the piece more watchable.

Tessa Hatts is brilliant as the manipulative, miserable spinster, referred to as “the Dog” by her children. Watching a grown woman play with a squeaking hot dog toy on all fours in a furry dog hat is inherently comical, and the success of this metaphor is in its simplicity. Hatts taunts her daughters, not offering them any gratitude besides their pitiful hourly wage, and it is in some respects hard to see why she so doggedly clings to life. She has a dry laugh that cuts through her daughters like ice. Her performance is perfectly pitched.

Penny Lisle gives a strong performance as the exasperated Maryanne, though at times her interpretation edges on the selfish, which alienates her from the audience somewhat. Ryan Anthony-Jones as Maryanne’s husband, Michael, is a rather one-note; his performance felt somewhat lacking in emotion. He seems to coast along without having much of an effect emotionally or narratively. Rebecca Crankshaw as the put-upon sister Carol makes up in commitment for what she lacks in presence and connection to the material, giving an energised performance.

Although Peckham’s The Last Refuge is one of the most friendly, welcoming and memorable converted warehouses in London, the lack of heating in the performance space simply must be corrected. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘super-cool’, often used to describe this venue, when one is sitting in the theatre in sub-zero temperatures. This is distracting and detracts from the work of the cast. It just isn’t fair on audience and performers alike.

This production rests on the concept. It is, at over 1 hour 40 minutes with no interval, perhaps overlong; some judicious cuts could have helped to home in on the strong heart of the play. As it is, it rambles somewhat and the long silent scene changes do nothing to help. The cast are a little inconsistent, but there are some good humorous moments from the actors. That being said, there is distinct potential in Sarah Kosar’s writing. An intriguing production that stays in your mind long after you leave, though perhaps not for all the right reasons.

Hot Dog played at The Last Refuge. For more shows see The Last Refuge website.