‘Mutts’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by August 11, 2014

‘Mutts’ is a tale of ‘life behind bars’, a dog’s life! This world premiere is mainly a poignant dramatic tragedy with many hilarious interludes; although ‘Mutts’ was written by one of Perth’s best-loved, zany playwrights Johnny Grim, this is a complete diversion from his normal writing, it is a genuine drama.

This latest treat is being produced by ARENAarts – a wonderful team that is interested in giving the underdog (!) a chance – at the Latvian Centre Theatre, 60 Cleaver Terrace in Belmont, where there is plenty of free parking.

Most of this team brought you last year’s hugely successful ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’, the uproarious show that had patrons coming back for a second helping.

These performances start at 8.00 pm, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings until 23rd August. There are matinees at 2.00 pm on Sunday the 10th and 17th. Children often go to the matinee, so perhaps I should warn that there is some slightly crude – but not too offensive – language. In addition, the story is quite sad in places.

The set is a bare stage with a countryside view on the backcloth; the cleverly conceived wire cages are added later. The set was designed by Jane Sherwood and Dan Madgwick; then built by them, assisted by Callum Calder, Johnny Grim, Cally Zanik and Linda Redman.

         There is a high-pitched yapping noise from the back of the theatre. A woman has found a stray canine in the street, so leads the dog (an actor in a pink tutu and fluffy crown), down the theatre aisle to the stage. This little yappy, overactive dog, Molly (Rachael Maher, great performance) has been brought to the pound!

        As Molly mingles with the other dogs, they suddenly find that the pound attendants, supervisor Hillary (Michelle Diston) and schoolgirl volunteer, Leah (Simone Diston) are building cages around them; dividing the sexes and removing their freedom.

       The Dalmatian, Measles (Jacob Duggar) and an older dog, which looks like he is a bikie’s pal, Titan (Graeme Cross) have been in the pound for some time, as has the sad old bitch, Jude (Cally Zanik) sitting quietly at the back of her cage. The two other dogs, a sexy stylish, leggy French poodle, Meg (Amanda Watson) and a bitzer, Peppa (Alison Arrowsmith) seemed to be streetwise.

        The keeper arrives with another male dog, Red (Reece Darch) who thinks he is on holiday, but the wise Socks (Willy Smeets – at his best), has obviously been trained by Michael Jackson, soon educates Red in the ways of the pound. The slightly dim Spock (Brett Shircore) befriends Red.

        When the visitors call, who will be the lucky one to be chosen? What happens to upset the schoolgirl helper?

 

Although I have suggested breeds, Johnny has left this to the audience’s imagination. He has amazingly created several very different breeds, with rich characters and distinctive dialogues of their own. Finley Award winner Director, Jane Sherwood has a doubly difficult task, directing ‘animals’ with all their irrational mannerisms, and next having them become human, with the everyday problems of life.

The cast had superb knowledge of the dogs they were playing, from simple tasks like lying down to sniffing each other, it was hilarious to watch. With a large cast on stage the whole time, it was essential that the dogs kept moving and showing various canine peculiarities, this the actors did with aplomb.

There was incidental, live mood music, from keyboard player Mel Kay – herself an award-winning actress. She kept the volume to a subtle level and the accompaniment was not intrusive or jarring. Danni Close had a small but effective soundscape.

Bree Vreedenburgh’s costumes were inspired, they had to show the character of the dog instantly, which they did most effectively. Very good indeed.

This was a most enjoyable and clever play. Recommended, but take a packet of tissues.