Daring Dogs Monologues Review By Virginia Proud

3.5 Stars

Part of the 2019 Melbourne Fringe line-up, Melbourne Writers Theatre presents a collection of new short plays. The works have been gathered under the title ‘Daring Dogs’ but cover such breadth, style and tone, that they are better understood as a showcase of independent pieces. Sadly, Coco the Wonder Poodle, who featured extensively in the promotional material does not make an appearance, although there is a perfectly positioned turd, allegedly the work of a Shitsu.

Michael Olsen’s “Comet’s Tale” offers us the only literal interpretation of the theme and works very well as an opening monologue. Comet, Russian space dog, is adrift, strapped into what will inevitably become her coffin, yet optimistic as to her fate. There were some lovely moments, describing her relationship with her trainer, Sergei, and her desire for puppies, memories and impressions grounded in canine experience. Her knowledge and perception are at times quite human however, and I wondered whether Olsen could have committed more fully to the conceit. Nevertheless, it is a terrific performance by young actress Cosima Gilbert, who delivers real poignancy, with immaculate stillness.

Coming back to earth, Maree Collie’s “It’s Not Funny” was indeed, not funny, and perhaps to its detriment. A young man develops a pathological fear of being early, having once been early to a job interview and traumatised by an unfortunate practical joke. The monologue took some time to find its focus and overall felt a little flat. While Callum Straford’s telling of the tale successfully portrayed a man on the edge of his nerves, the tone didn’t vary markedly. The moment of trauma itself deserved a more full-throated delivery, to convey the horror he apparently experienced.

In “Jitterbug” Brook Fairley took us to the post war era, when returned soldiers were reclaiming their lives, and wives. It is an excellent piece; the wife’s character is successfully realised – her resentment, her loss of independence and her hopes to reclaim it – and Sarah Hamilton gives a strong performance with Southern Belle flavour. It is a short play but a complete world; Fairley creates a sense of events offstage, from where the wife comes and goes and occasionally barks orders. She gives life to Red, the husband behind scenes. Even ‘Mr Sellers’ to whom the monologue is addressed, is given form and substance.

It is interesting to contrast this piece with “Since” by Elizabeth Dias. Dias has delivered a moody and evocative piece of writing, often reduced to fragments and single words. Here is a man who works with wood, he pines for his lost love and he crafts her (him?) a cello. Unfortunately, the power the writing may have as prose or spoken word, does not translate to an effective theatrical monologue. Dias paints the internal torment of her protagonist, at the expense of the fundamentals of story – who is this lost love, and why lost? Actor Alec Gilbert commits to the literary quality of the work, but his performance is static under the weight of language. Only toward the end of the monologue, can he find his character’s humanity and the piece begin to breathe, suggesting its potential.

Heather Forbes-McKeon launches us into lighter territory with her “Desperate and Dirty at Twilight”, a tale of nursing home shenanigans. McKeon realises a credible world for her monologue, but a leaf from Fairley’s book here would be to endow the new neighbour with character, to render them more than a device. But overall, she gives actor Clare Larman some great material, as she shares gossip and sordid tales with a new neighbour. The laughs are obvious, rather than clever, but it is a thoroughly engaging performance and delivers some much-needed humour to the line-up.

Director Elizabeth Walley has concluded the programme with Bruce Shearer’s “I am Ublet”, a high energy performance by Isabella Gilbert. A wise choice, because as the final number it is a terrific lift to watch Gilbert throw herself around the stage as the demented but determined design guru. Shearer’s play isn’t particularly coherent as a piece of storytelling, but it is a great spectacle. And it provided Walley a nice opportunity to seamlessly deliver a final ensemble performance by the cast.

I am happy to see new writing being produced under any banner, but a name that doesn’t reflect the production, risks missing audience expectation. “Daring Dogs” as a moniker feels arbitrary, as the writers have for the most part ignored it (using the word ‘dog’, or ‘daring’ or even ‘daring dog’ somewhere in the text doesn’t count in my book). I hope that audiences see past this, as while not all the short plays are of equal strength, there is some nice work here, complemented with simple but effective design. Slick stage management kept the pace between each play.

Direction 4
Performances 4
Writing 3
Lighting/Sound 3

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