Dream of the Dog
Trafalgar Studio 2
The Trafalgar Studios must feel honoured to receive the transfer of Dream of the Dog after its successful run at the Finborough earlier this year. Rarely can a play evoke so much emotion and leave audience members gripped by its glorious staging.
Dream of the Dog is set in South Africa. The apartheid is over, but race is still an issue simmering under the skin of society there. When Look Smart returns unannounced to the farm where he grew up, he adds heat to uncovered secrets and soon the tension boils over as harsh truths are suddenly revealed.
Something happened before Look Smart disappeared, and throughout the course of the play each character provides their take on the most unfortunate of incidents. Higginson's expertly crafted script demonstrates how there are many sides to a story and that more eyes do not necessarily mean a clearer picture of events.
A key theme of the play is the notion of memory. Do we only remember what we want to remember? Do we fill in the gaps of things we forget? Can we be convinced to change our memories? Can lost memories be revived?
But these are not the only questions Dream of the Dog poses for its audience. Underlying the whole piece is the question of 'Who is the real victim?' Nothing is ever clean cut; those who feel victimised may be perceived fortunate by others.
As Look Smart peels an apple, he begins to unravel the past and re-live what he believes were the events which led to his lover's death. But the more that gets unravelled, the more complicated it becomes as not everyone is telling the truth. This is one of the play's key strengths; it progresses, layer upon layer, building tension and gripping the audience at every turn of the plot's narrative.
Ariyon Bakare is wonderful as Look Smart. Almost brought up by Patricia as his white mother, his return seems to be a personal quest to exorcise his own inner demons. What he doesn't realise is that secrets also haunt Patricia, and Janet Suzman is sublime in the role as she slowly comes to terms with the actions of her husband Richard (Bernard Kay). The interaction between Bakare and Suzman is superb as they fight for the right to assert their version of events as the truth. Tension mounts as they take on the roles of mother and child, persecutor and persecuted, educator and educated; the audience cannot but help be drawn in by their well crafted characters and intense performances.
Directed by Katie McAleese, this production is a prime example of the power a one act play can have. With the action primarily revolving around Look Smart and Patricia it never becomes static as the two actors battle with anger, grief and torment. The prominence of a singular peeled apple and the terror a kitchen knife or spade can wield is almost palpable. These objects remind us, as Patricia says, of the poison present in some societies - that of fear - and the need to protect oneself from a danger which may never manifest. The intimacy of Studio 2 makes the production even more rewarding for the audience as they are privy to the slightest of changes in an actor's facial expression or tone of voice and this contributes heavily to the production's emotional engagement and all encompassing sense of tension.
Dream of the Dog is 75 minutes of powerful thought provoking drama. Already a set text in universities in South Africa and the United States, Higginson's play will soon find its way into UK syllabuses without a doubt.
Playing until 19 June 2010
Reviewer: Simon Sladen