Dog Ends - Hilarious Dark Comedy That Doesn't Disappoint
Penny Flood loved the new play at the Tabard Theatre
The Tabard is back with a bang - hooray - with new seats, a new bar and a stonking new play, Dog Ends, by Richard Harris who also wrote the successful Liza, Liza, Liza a couple of years ago.
Dog Ends is a dark comedy about old age, death and some dodgy medical practices. It tells the story of a family struggling to cope with an aged parent, but nothing is as it seems; there's a slow- burning, sinister subplot bubbling away just below the surface that explodes with devastating effect. In spite of (or maybe because of) a macabre plot twist it's very, very funny.
Our hero is George, a man driven to distraction by having to care for Grandad (Bryan Hands) his very old and incapable, incontinent father who sleeps in the corner alongside the equally aged and decrepit dog, Rinty. The show opens on Christmas Day; the family are wearing silly hats and playing cards, although George is the only one taking it seriously. His wife Bea (the lovely Anita Graham, whose dead pan delivery of some killer lines sprinkled with malapropisms is priceless) is more concerned with the mince pies; estate agent son Julian (Alex Mann) is obsessing over the traffic on the North Circular Road and air-head daughter- in- law Danielle (Charlotte Peak) would rather discuss her friend's boob job. The lack of empathy for George more of less sets the tone.
Throughout the first act the passing of time is marked by Max Bygraves songs about tulips, hands, a tiny house by a tiny stream and Grandad's favourite, the one about toothbrushes, he sometimes sings it quietly to himself.
There's never a dull moment as Julian and Danielle pop in and out to offer advice or just talk about themselves, and neighbour Henry (Jeffrey Holland ) , whose ever deepening suntan and tendency to wear beach clothes have not gone unnoticed, often drops by to beg a favour, lend a sympathetic ear and impart news of dogs and their owners who have died in some strange circumstances. And the subplot begins to emerge.
One day, taking pity on Rinty, Henry introduces George to a vet who will have him put to sleep. When the vet (Christien Anholt, dressed like Dracula) arrives it becomes clear that he's got a different agenda, and things get more than a little peculiar.
The humour arises not from belittling the situation or mocking the characters, it just takes slightly skewed look at the way they react to things. There are two acts, the first sets the scene while there's an abrupt change in the second, opening up the dialogue to include the state of the NHS while banging on about dignity and there's no more Max Bygraves. Misunderstandings pile upon misunderstandings to become almost pantomimic while later on, desperation drives the action to the edge of slapstick.
Then, just when it seems things can only get worse can only get worse, it gets resolved in a way nobody could have dreamed of.
It's not going to be everybody's cup of tea, but if you like that kind of thing go see - it's hilarious to the end.
March 30, 2017