Pros: The engaging pace.
Cons: Old-fashioned and diluted.
For the average theatregoer, Auden and Isherwood’s The Dog Beneath the Skin can be a somewhat rewarding experience. The sustained pace remains engaging throughout the 130-minute running time (including an interval) and the production is visually and audibly stimulating.
The pastel-tinted backdrop of the English countryside accompanies Alan Norman (Pete Ashmore) during his quest for Sir Francis Crewe, the heir to the local estate who has been missing for over a decade. Flanked by a loyal and exceptionally clever dog (Cressida Bonas), Norman has been chosen – according to tradition – amongst the town’s bravest bachelors to trace the disappeared man and marry his forlorn sister, as a reward in the event of a successful expedition.
Gentle live songs and swift scene changes keep the audience entertained, despite a diluted plot wherein many a sequence is an end in itself. Mainly written in rhyme, the play oozes an old-fashioned flavour, which starts off as endearing but gradually becomes samey.
A discerning spectator can’t help but notice a flimsy structure, where a promising contest is left devoid of content. Along the way Norman encounters a large number of characters, but seldom obtains from them something crucial for the denouement of the mysterious disappearance of Sir Francis Crewe.
A real tour de force for a meagre eight-strong cast, the performance is nailed in all its aspects by Eva Feiler, who inhabits her multiple roles with remarkable commitment. She appeared enduringly tuned in whilst playing delightful melodies at the piano, as well as when simply required to stand in the background.
The underlying condemnation of blind devotion, with its detrimental mindset, is merely hinted in one of the opening scenes but doesn’t fully emerge until the final episode. By then, the drama has already run out of steam, and a resounding speech made by a despotic priest – which would reflect well in our times – becomes a sterile addition to a light-hearted comedy. Originally intending a farcical criticism of pre-war Europe, the authors depict a dystopic world on the brink of collapse.
Suspended between a modern fairy-tale and a concealed statement against the totalitarian regimes that were emerging when the play was written in 1935, The Dog Beneath the Skin owes its prestige to its historical value, rather than its appeal to modern tastes. However, it pays its debts to an inferred reticence for the political motif placed centre-stage and, as a result, its twenty-first century relevance is left waning.
Author: W. H. Auden & Christopher Isherwood
Composer: Jeremy Warmsley
Director: Jimmy Walters
Producer: Jermyn Street Theatre and Proud Haddock
Booking Until: 31 March 2018
Box Office: 020 7287 2875
Booking Link: http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/dog-beneath-skin/