The Dead Dogs at the Print Room
With a traditional Scandinavian setting, atmospheric and homely, the latest incarnation of The Dead Dogs looked to have potential. Staged at Notting Hill’s The Print Room, the 2005 work by celebrated Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse does, however, fall short of these early expectations; strangely communicative yet distant and intensely repetitive, this is a difficult production to comprehend. Its direction is marred by exaggerated acting and breathy pauses. There is palpable tension, a sense of restraint and despair, but this is not impressive or intriguing as much as oppressive for the viewer. The audience laughs at points – mostly at the Brother-in-law (Sam Redford) – but The Dead Dogs doesn’t read as much of a comedy.
The play feels like a comment on the breakdown of the mind. What is the dog? Sanity? Ambition? Control? Things left unspoken are the most significant when the Mother (Valerie Gogan) dismisses the loss of her son’s (Danny Horn) beloved dog as he becomes more introverted and more distressed. Questions about change arise as an old friend (William Troughton – the strongest performance) and the absent sister (Jennie Gruner) return to the home in the aftermath of the overhanging lost dog. The dialogue is dry and suggestively sinister, but the seats are uncomfortable and the stage lighting too bright for repose in this tiny theatre.
The awkward psychological interplay of Fosse’s script is powerful though and there are themes here that range across abandonment, family ties, independence and mental state. Characters represent conscience and the ceaseless use of “yes” affirms anxiety as events take a predictable but dramatic turn. Talk of the outdoors throughout the play has the peculiar effect of making the view from the large window clear in the mind’s eye, despite it being entirely opaque – a welcome imaginative break from the darkness of tone. The dialogue itself in print is a masterclass in complexity and depth, reminiscent of Mark Haddon’s writing, and the acting does showcase a cross section of human emotions. What is the dog now? Manhood? Happiness? Innocence?
At points The Dead Dogs is uncomfortable to sit through; this is not by force of the acting unfortunately, but more that the language of this play has lost its poignancy in translation. What may have been tense and with a sense of foreboding in the Norwegian is here stilted and somewhat awkward. Bleak and unrepentant, The Dead Dogs leaves you with restlessness and disquiet not easily shaken off.
Photo: Nobby Clarke
The Dead Dogs is at the Print Room until 12th April 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for The Dead Dogs here: