BWW Review: DOGFIGHT, Southwark Playhouse

BWW Review: DOGFIGHT, Southwark Playhouse

BWW Review: DOGFIGHT, Southwark PlayhouseBefore Dear Evan Hansen and The Greatest Showman came Dogfight, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's 2012 off-Broadway musical.

It tells the story of a group of marines' last night of debauchery in San Francisco before being shipped out to war in 1963. This gritty story of love and deception has been revived as part of the British Theatre Academy's 2019 summer season at Southwark Playhouse.

Based on the 1991 film, Dogfight follows the tale of Eddie (Stephen Lewis-Johnston), a newly minted US marine, and Rose (Claire Keenan), a diner waitress. Eddie and his comrades are hosting a "dogfight" - a party where the "heroes" compete to bring the ugliest date they can find to the dancefloor. The narrative deals with the fallout of the scam and the realities of war amongst the central romance.

The young talented performers are double cast for most of the roles during this run, and the particular group of actors on stage on this occasion did not disappoint. Kennan is suitably charming, with an air of innocence, and gives an emotionally charged rendition of "Pretty Funny".

It was a wise decision by this production to omit the interval which usually occurs after this rather sombre number, allowing the 105-minute drama to unfold uninterrupted.

Lewis-Johnston is suitably tough and defensive, but not afraid to show his emotions at times, particularly in the anguishing "Come Back"- and the duo has charming chemistry together.

Lewis-Johnston and his army buddies, Boland (Joe Munn) and Bernstein (Matthew Michaels), have tangible camaraderie. Munn is suitably brutish as Boland, and Michaels makes an endearingly jittery Bernstein. Marcy (Charlotte Coles), another guest at the dogfight, is appropriately disillusioned with the right balance of feistiness and sensitivity. The show's title song is delivered with passion by Keenan and Coles.

Aside from the odd wobble in pitch and togetherness, the cast delivers Pasek and Paul's demanding score with determined professionalism, from the delightfully awkward "First Date/Last Night" to the explosively laddish "Some Kinda Time". Direction from Dean Johnson draws the emotion out of every scene.

Stand out lighting design by Andrew Exeter creates the illusion of a helicopter at the top of the show. Soft pinks are used to highlight Rose's innocence, and the audience is transported to the battlefield with powerful use of strobe lighting and sound effects.

Minimal set design by Johnson and Exeter accommodates the Southwark Playhouse's limited space with the size of the cast they have. It's also nice to have the band on show, and a simple platform serves as a balcony and bridge.

Costumes by Tessa Stephens and Linda Rees have suitable hints of the 60s, particularly Rose's rainbow collection of spotty dresses strewn about her bedroom floor. The lads look suitably authoritative in their uniforms.

Choreography by George Lyons ensures the whole cast is involved in the storytelling, but is, on occasion, a little crowded. The lack of microphones means some words from the layered sections in the score are missed.

That said, the cast does make every effort to be heard. For the majority of the time, the cast is balanced well with the five-piece band, commanded by musical director Leo Munby on the piano. Ellen Dunn and Angus McCall deliver the charismatic string parts with flair.

Dogfight is an unsettling story. The consequences of toxic masculinity are explored in Peter Duncan's book as well as the humiliation of women, important to show in this post #metoo age. The score also makes for an intriguing listen with its unconventional harmonies.

A show that sounds quite different from Pasek and Paul's more recent work, Dogfight by the British Theatre Academy students is delivered with commitment and style.

Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse until 31 August

Photo credit: Eliza Wilmot

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From This Author Fiona Scott