There are many dog lovers out there, so the first thing that must be said to stop tongues wagging in vain is that there are no dogs in this show. No real ones anyway – they can be heard, and there is an impersonation, but no real ones.
Disappointing perhaps, but this show from Rosalind Blessed (daughter of the one and only Brian Blessed) shatters expectations in more ways than one, certainly making up for the furry creatures’ absences. The title may suggest a show that is a light-hearted jab at the peculiarities of canines and how they are superior to human relationships. However, the show actually manifests itself as a terrifying analysis of a marital relationship that has completely and utterly disintegrated, with some dangerous possessive behaviour added into the equation. It is impossible to be mentally prepared for a show as harrowing and powerful as this.
The play tracks the fall of a loving relationship between two university sweethearts into a lethal case of hatred and obsession. Blessed and her co-star Duncan Wilkins both produce towering performances – even when it all seems rosy in the beginning, they are able to make their moments of insecurity and frustration flash without it overpowering them until the very end. And when they do eventually snap, it is brutal. Wilkins in particular is absolutely terrifying as husband James. You can see the veins throbbing in his forehead and neck as he tears into the woman who he insists he is meant to be with. The force of his voice pushes the audience members back into their seats.
The play makes use of jumps in time and flashbacks, which allows moments of humour to be spread evenly throughout the play. These normally involve getting involved with the audience, treating chosen individuals almost like other characters. This helps to make the play more watchable, because even the most unflappable of those watching would walk out of the venue drowning in a stream of misery if it was just lots of shouting and conflict.
The dogs are what bring out a smile on both characters’ faces, and although you never see them, it is still the dogs that contribute the most to the play’s more playful/uplifting moments. Sometimes it borders on the ludicrous – a Staffie running across a field dragging a tent with him for instance – but more often than not they provide low-key and comforting moments that most dog owners will be able to relate to. There is also a striking, and somewhat worrying, comparison between the dogs as rescue animals and James’ determination to ‘put his wife back together.’
The show is most certainly not what may be expected, and in terms of character exploration seems more weighted towards Wilkin’s character than Blessed’s, yet the sheer power of this gripping piece of theatre cannot be ignored. What could have ended up being a warming, jovial affair with a title like The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People ends up becoming so much more by placing the focus on the latter. This is a gripping exploration of a marriage gone sour and the dangers of human possessiveness that deserves to be shown to the masses – no matter how much it might make them squirm in their seats.
As a final, touching gesture, Blessed is also collecting donations for Edinburgh Dogs and Cats’ Home at the end of every show. There is no problem with her relationship with dogs, that’s for sure.
The Delights of Dogs and the problems of People
SpaceTriplex (Venue 38)
Until 26th August (not 20th)
Image: Laura Horton