BWW Review: THE DELIGHTS OF DOGS AND THE PROBLEMS OF PEOPLE, Old Red Lion Theatre
Rosalind Blessed takes residency at London's Old Red Lion Theatre throughout January, performing two self-penned plays in rep. Both new works explore the theme of mental health as well as drawing on the fact that a dog's unwavering love for us can often be a redemptive force.
The use of dogs is a clever device, emphasising how human relationships can sometimes be laced with judgement and jealousy, two traits man's best friend do not possess.
The Delights of Dogs and the Problems with People tells the story of Robin and the mental and physical torture her abusive partner James inflicts on her. Time jumps ensure we are drip fed information rather than being presented with the full facts. This works well in encouraging us to make our own judgements and observations about these two characters as we witness their behaviour when both 'on show' and behind closed doors.
Duncan Wilkins excels in the role of James, morphing what's initially a somewhat endearing and bumbling demeanour with a dark and manipulative underbelly. His chemistry with Blessed is incredibly strong, allowing their character's relationship to be convincing from the off. The actor showcases excellent physical theatre, at one point portraying a dog with utter conviction. His use of voice is carefully considered with his opening dialogue inviting us in and painting what we later learn is an inaccurate picture of who this man really is.
Blessed has a wonderful knack for conveying a wide array of emotions with just her eyes, telling us all we need to know about how her character is feeling. Weighty emotion is communicated through her voice and use of body language and stage space. The character is warm and relatable, which allows the climax of her story to be all the more devastating. It's an enthralling and memorable performance.
Drawing on her own experiences with mental health allows Blessed's writing to feel incredibly real and raw. The artist is clearly very passionate about what she is saying here but ensures nothing is sugar coated or force fed. Instead the audience are left with more questions than answers and forced to form their own opinions.
At just 70 minutes the play flows at a strong pace, balancing light hearted character-driven humour with the heavier themes. This is an important piece of theatre that reminds us of the mediums ability to open our eyes to aspects of human nature we'd rather remain blind to while reaffirming the talents of its creator.
Photo credit: Natalie Wells