Directed by Alice Livingstone
542 King Street, Newtown
Season: 7 February - 4 March
The inextricable worlds of Hollywood and show business never fail to fascinate – the famous anomaly for standards of social acceptability and what is ‘normal’. It’s bizarre and outlandish and wonderful – making for a great initial premise for a show. Mitchell Green (Brett Rogers) is a famous closeted actor who calls in a 'rent boy' to his hotel room to keep him company. Alex (Charles Upton) is the rent boy who sleeps with men for work and with women in his personal life. He goes home to Ellen (Madeleine Beukers), his friend who he sleeps with sometimes. Meanwhile as Mitchell threatens to take a gay role and come out in the process, his agent Diane (Sarah Aubrey) is doing everything she can to keep him closeted, successful, and appealing to both men and women. Hilarity and heartbreak ensues...
Livingstone's direction produces an authentic feel in creating the warm (and lovingly frank) relationships we see on stage. It traverses between scenes unfolding presently before audience eyes, and a form of direct address as the characters reveal their inner monologues. It relies on a quick pace to draw out the comedy that emanates from Douglas Carter Beane's text, which at points is effective and at others needed to tighten up for optimum impact. It's a hilarious play by all accounts and I imagine will only continue to pace up as the season proceeds. Tom Bannerman's set design is an open stage space with coloured booths in the background used for cameo scenes and the divulsion of characters' inner thoughts. Whilst it is a functional design and a visually appealing one, I feel it may have contributed to blocking some of the reduced fluidity. Carter Beane's text provides ample challenge for an actor's oral dexterity and all actors rise nobly to the challenge, particularly Aubrey.
Critically in this piece we see the exploration and misunderstanding that shrouds one's sexual identity, mistaking love and care for sexual desire, and vice versa. We see this explored by Rogers and Upton beautifully to a devastating degree, revealing the concessions people are willing to make for love and social acceptance. Furthermore the production highlights the continuing prejudice that exists around same-sex attraction and 'deviation' from social norms. Upton reveals a tenderness in his characterisation, shielded with a guise of indifference, that causes audience hearts to break on his behalf. The passion between Mitchell and Alex is palpable and raises the stakes of the narrative as we the audience believe that the characters have something very special between them. Rogers is riddled with confusion and guilt on his conscience as his loyalties to himself and to others conflict - his character's internal struggle is clear. Aubrey's Diane is crassly frank as Mitchell's Hollywood agent, revelling in the humour of the work and highlighting the gross infatuation that some people have with money and fame in this industry, allowing it to rule their lives to an inordinate degree. Your heart goes out for Beukers as Ellen, the unlucky in love girl, caught in the crossfire of the circumstances.
The Little Dog Laughed manages to make pointed statements about life and love without feeling like it's telling you what to think. You feel for these characters and see the blurry boundaries and lack of a clear wrong and right outcome. Livingstone's production is heartfelt and doesn't shy away from the harsher realities revealed in the text. A fabulously fun night with important comments on interpersonal relationships and the world around us, it packs a punch and you'll have a ball.