The Dog Beneath the Skin at Jermyn Street Theatre
Theatre company Proud Haddock is known for re-discovering forgotten works that still have something to say to the modern audience. Co-written by WH Auden and Christopher Isherwood and now revived by the Jermyn Street Theatre, The Dog Beneath the Skin is an absurdist tale with many comical turns, but it is also a clear warning against the rise of fascism.
In a village named Pressan Ambo in the 1930s, prominent figure Francis Crewe mysteriously disappears. Every year, one of the male villagers is chosen at random to go in search of the missing man, but none have ever returned. When Alan Norman (Pete Ashmore) is selected, he takes a dog (Cressida Bonas) with him, and together they travel through Europe, passing through palaces, asylums and red light districts, all the while witnessing changes in the people they meet as pre-war tensions set in.
Part fairytale, part modernist drama, political in scope but with a touch of burlesque, the story is certainly original and captivating in many ways, but the patchwork approach leaves it looking unrefined. The satire is biting at times but is lost at others, and the comedy reaches high peaks but sometimes descends into unsubtle expressions. Overall, the plot suffers from a lack of uniformity. However, the poetic nature of the script, alternating between verse and song, gives each scene, if not structure, rhythm and charm.
While the small space available is used effectively, at times the action outgrows the set, which seems to restrict its full potential. The cast displays great skill in manoeuvring props and managing costume changes, and Edmund Digby Jones in particular steals the show as he reappears in multiple guises to guide or obstruct the protagonist.
Imperfect but compelling and unique in the way it constructs and presents a story, this is a play that certainly possesses a few strong elements. Director Jimmy Walters does attempt to make the plot compact and some scenes are powerful, especially those questioning the social and political climate in satirical tones.
Photo: Sam Taylor (S R Taylor Photography)
The Dog Beneath the Skin is at Jermyn Street Theatre from 7th until 31st March 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.