The black dog can be an awful beast for those who experience it. It is always there, lingering over you, casting its dark shadow over everything. And at times it can be such a heavy weight to carry that it feels better to just not bother anymore, to just collapse to the ground, never wanting to move again.
The black dog looms large in Alquist’s life. His girlfriend has left him, he has lost his job, his father was never there, and as the show starts, he is bleeding profusely from his rectum. It’s enough to challenge anyone. And when his best mate succumbs to their own black dog and commits suicide, Alquist struggles to find a way to cope with the weight of his own issues. It may all seem rather farfetched, especially when he is chased down by knife wielding moped riders, but it is in fact based largely on the experiences of writer and solo performer Daniel Hallissey.
In The Shadow Of The Black Dog feels heavily influenced by Richard Gadd’s Baby Reindeer. Both see thirty-something males laying themselves completely bare on stage, revealing the most intimate details of their life, even their sex life, eliciting both laughter and nods of understanding from many present. And both seem almost too ridiculous in places to actually be true.
But whereas Baby Reindeer is now a fully polished piece of theatre, In The Shadow is clearly still in its infancy, rough around the edges but with enough promise at its core that with further development it could flourish. The show is strong on emotion but at times struggles to maintain the tension. This is due in no small part to the staging within New Wimbledon Theatre’s Studio space. The wide openness of the stage area is just too large, allowing too much room around Hallissey’s performance. It needs to feel more claustrophobic. Likewise, the transition between scenes is too smooth; there needs to be a bluntness. James Nicholson’s sound goes some way towards this: at times it feels like a deep intake of breath as it transitions, but it needs the support of lighting to finish the effect. And if the show is really to grow into something akin to Baby Reindeer, phone conversations and text messaging would work better as a two-way exchange; maybe a pre-recorded voice for the other half of the conversation, a screen to show the messages. Done correctly it can only add to the tension of the performance.
Where In The Shadow does flourish is when Hallissey tries to explain how he feels, the anger at his friend for killing himself, the questioning of whether he could have done or said something differently. Even the questioning of whether he wants to go on like this anymore. It is near impossible to really explain to someone what the loss of a close friend in such a way can feel like, but Hallissey does well in conveying the helplessness of it all.
This is a play that is clearly still growing into itself. Currently it is very good, but with further development it could be great. Early on he asks “are we all educated to be emotionally illiterate?” and the answer right now to that is yes, but we can only hope that with plays such as this, we will teach ourselves one day to turn to our friends and be comfortable in asking for help when we most need it.
Written by: Daniel Hallissey
Directed by: Conor Neaves
Produced by: All The Pigs
Playing until: This show has completed its current run