Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Dog Show - Theatre Review

What: Dog Show
When: 14 - 22 September 2018
Where: The Warehouse, Arts House
Created by: Simone French, Cassandra Fumi, Tom Halls and Alex Roe
Directed by: Cassandra Fumi
Performed by: Simone French, Adam Ibrahim, Cassandra Kumashov and Alex Roe
Alex Roe
Dog Show is a volatile cocktail of canine energy which can normally only be found at a dog show. Riffing along similar lines to the 2000 movie Best In Show, Hotel Now have brought their manic and outrageously hilarious show to this years Melbourne Fringe Festival.

I suspect Tom Halls and Simone French have a bit of a fascination with the year 2000 because the other two works I have seen from Hotel Now also have their roots in that year. Both What's Yours Is Mine and How To Kill The Queen of Pop (a hit of last year's Fringe Festival) referenced that year as well, although this one could be a coincidence...

Dog Show had it's first iteration as part of La Mama's 'Explorations' series in December 2017 and it is exciting to see how the show has developed and evolved over time. A physically intense piece of theatre - how could it not be with a chihuahua, afghan, and whippet as the stars? - this clowning, dance, drag overload hooks you from the pre-performance framing to the very last second of the show leaving you with a huge smile on your face whilst also contemplating some serious questions about animal rights and the mental health of human beings.

Before the show begins Roger (Ibrahim), Benjamin (Roe), and Cara (French) come out and chat with the audience. They introduce themselves and their dogs and pass out cards with instructions to the audience. One of the genius dramaturgies of Dog Show is how they use the audience to build momentum and mania on top of the work the 5 piece drum kit does - played by the phenomenal Kumashov, ringmaster extraordinaire, throughout.

We always hear talk of how pet owners looks surprisingly like their pets and in Dog Show we discover how true this is. Conversely, as the actors are playing both the animals and the owners - switching between at the whim and whip of Kumashov's drums - we also see great commentary on how ridiculously pet owners dress and treat their animals too.

Dog Show is a non-stop energy fest as Cara and her dog Chichi twerk around the arena, Robert and Margareen spice things up with the salsa, and Benjamin and Darby... well, Darby is new to the arena and is a little bit unsettled... but when he remembers to march it is martial indeed! When the owners and the animals take off, it is a maelstrom of sequins, tassels, and studs flying around the stage.

We learn some of the standards for the three breeds as outlined by the American Kennel Club who have set judging standards since 1884. These criteria include length of snout, tail, state of fur, and even temperament. Did you know a chihuahua has to be saucy but not anxious? What does that even mean?

If the dog doesn't measure up, it is the dog's failing. It makes you wonder how we could ever create a world where we don't judge each other when we can't even let animals be what they are? It's not just dogs either. I know this happens with a lot of other animals, horses for example, too. And let's not even talk about child beauty contests...

Despite the heavy undertones, Fumi (director) never lets the fun sag. I admit to having a small crisis of conscience as I was laughing even whilst knowing I abhored the world I was being entertained by.

Don't worry though. After a gruelly and shocking day of parading, poking, prodding, and patronising Chichi, Darby and Margareen get to let their hair...er, fur...down and their inner animals emerge. Dogs really are quite simple creatures really and don't want or need a lot out of life.

Dog Show is ensemble performance at its finest. Rather than everyone merging into a homogenous story, a good ensemble allows every performer to shine equally, and Dog Show achieves this beyond just about anything I have seen before.

With all of the great aspects of How To Kill The Queen of Pop, Dog Show takes the skills and talents of Hotel Now even further into the stratosphere and it is so refreshing to see actors who understand the body as a communication tool as strong as the voice.

Laugh, gasp, and join in the madness and merriness of Dog Show. It could very well be one of the best things you see in the Fringe Festival this year!

4.5 Stars

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