There have been numerous news stories in the press recently about animal cruelty: a woman putting a cat in a bin, a man putting a hamster in a microwave and another taping a dog's mouth shut. Lou Ramsden's latest piece, Breed, explores this very notion of cruelty and the fact that humans will always treat each other, as well as their pets, as animals.
Although the play centres around an illegal dog fight, it is the fights and power struggles within the family that really matter in this piece. Ramsden proves it's a dog eat dog world out there, with her characters constantly vying for affection and battling it out between themselves for the position of top dog.
Liv lives a caged life, where everything is decided for her, until one day she meets a stranger in the park who compels her to break free from the chains of her current life, but there's a catch. Her chance of freedom will only come if she offers to help him first. Both Liv and Naz have made mistakes in the past, but with each other's help, they can prove themselves honest people and make a new start in life.
In the role of Liv, Jessie Cave brings a wonderful sense of vulnerability to the character. Liv tries to do what's right for her and her family, but has to tread a fine line and Cave depicts this emotional and conscientious struggle perfectly.
As her brother with learning difficulties Brendan, Paul Stocker does a superb job of portraying a character who means well, but, just like Lennie in Of Mice and Men, often gets into trouble as a result of his well-intended, but un-thought through actions. The scene in the nursery where he attempts a bedtime story is particularly well acted and Stocker's expression of frustration is mirrored in the baby's crying, angering him further until he erupts; this is not the only time that he becomes part of the fireworks he so longs to see.
Ramsden's script follows in the footsteps of Bond, Kane and Ravenhill and, although not as in-yer-face as some pieces from these authors, Breed does depicts the atrocities of family life, where violence is just another part of the everyday grind.
Breed's final scene is a clear demonstration of Ramsden's talent as a playwright. Everything comes together in an electrically charged scene full of dramatic tension, which has been slowly building since the very first exchange between the characters on stage. The audience suddenly realise the horrific role Uncle Paddy Corrigan will ultimately play and witness just how oppressive Danny, Liv's dad, really is. But although the climax is violent, like many of the plays in this field, having witnessed events which can shock and disgust, Breed ends with an image of hope, demonstrating that there might be a positive future for some of these characters after all.
The only aspect of the production that distracts from the drama and tension is the use of some rather intrusive dog sound effects. With the actors miming their canine companions, the vocal presence of them seems superfluous and actually makes it harder to believe a dog exists at all due to its disembodied panting. Dispensing with these sound effects would retain the focus on the human characters and strengthen the notion that humans are just as, if not more, animal than their four legged friends.
Theatre503 pride itself on being the home of fearless, irreverent, brave and provocative new writing and their latest theatrical offering does not disappoint. Picked from hundreds of the country's most exciting new voices, Ramsden fully deserves her place as one of the 503Five and the theatre must be extremely proud and feel honoured to work with such talent.
They say that success breeds success, and having won an Olivier award with The Mountaintop, Theatre503 have another sure fire hit on their hands with Breed; a pure pedigree of a production.
Playing until 16th October 2010
Reviewer: Simon Sladen