Written by Monty James and directed by Dom Riley, Schrödinger’s Dog is a high-energy, comedic and clever play.
It must be said that for an amateur production, Schrödinger’s Dog is devised with the efficacy and sharpness of a professional theatre, both in its writing and in its direction. Its plot is fortuitous, and its characters — of which there is a comically superfluous amount — are variegated and entertaining.
With such an amount of characters, however, came a variety of characterisations and qualities of performance. On the whole, actors were engaging and lively. Notably endearing and humorous performances came from James himself (playing Hugo), Aaron Phinehas Peters (playing Chuks), Lindsey-Anne Barnes (playing Barbara), and Ella Hunter-Clark (playing Nancy). However, I must say, I was slightly disappointed in the writing of Lauren’s character (played by Ellie Sparrow) and even more in Rowena Bentley’s stiff characterisation of Aunt Jemima, both of which I shall detail further later.
Set and props were rather complex, adding realism to the performance, and — especially when the shoes were scattered over the floor — a sense of chaos, as well as drawing from the quirkiness of Hugo’s character with the Christmas tree and decorations. The cupboard was effective in adding dimension to the performance, functioning as a front door as well as a closet, and heightening tensions when Chuks is locked inside it, unbeknownst to the characters back on stage. Although, I do think its sudden multifunction as a window was quite ineffective, and the mirrors on its front reflected stage lights from above into the audience, which would have been better avoided.
Performers’ relation to and movements within the space, however, were dubious. It was difficult at points to understand what function certain areas of the stage assumed. For example, a door off stage, next to the audience, served at one point as Hugo’s bathroom, then his bedroom and then Madeline’s (Lynne Jefferies) bedroom shortly after; and, towards the beginning of the play, Barbara and Nancy assumed the aisle between the audience as a call centre, an area which later signified Hugo’s hallway to the front door. This latter example was particularly frustrating for me. It is far better to give the audience a vague image [or sound] to spark their imagination than a complex field of images that they have to mentally dissect to understand. It would have sufficed to simply have their voices played overhead, or better yet, through the phone itself. This would have also made their surprise arrival more humorous, as we would not recognise their faces. Having them both stand on stage, opposite Hugo and Chuks, was simply a bizarre visual. Inefficacies like these wherein the playtext is unmodified for the performance space are easily avoidable. Other alight efficacités took away from the realism of the performance: for example, Hugo’s tying up of Chuks which was made rather futile by Phinehas Peters’s hands being left untied. This was equally avoidable by having his arms tied behind the chair as opposed to left free between his legs.
The use of technology in this performance was particularly impressive, however, due to a clever operation of sound. Music played interchangeably from the laptop to the speakers, making for a dynamic and almost cinematic balance of the interior reality of the play and the theatrical manifestation of this. Other sound effects and lighting were simple but effective, making transitions smooth and particularly adding life to the boxed dog. Additionally, costume typified the eccentricity of the plot in its almost fancy-dress aesthetic: a pizza delivery guy, Buzz Lightyear, etc.
The writing itself made for a realistic dialogue with themes pertinent to current aspects of modern life. However, I do not think this performance was successful in its presentation of the severity of Hugo’s mental state. There is one moment in this play, perhaps a directorial decision, where Hugo is left alone in his flat. He puts on music and starts to perform mundane activities to enliven his spirits but ends up defeated and sobbing. Here, the play’s momentum started to drop rapidly along with the mood of the performance. Where the rest of the play had had such a comedic and farcical tone, the slowness of this scene did not sit well.
This sudden change of performance style was maintained in the arrival of Lauren. Whilst I felt that Sparrow characterised Lauren aptly, I felt that it was an inefficacious decision to have such a character in the first place. The mood of these scenes was simply too slow and collected, and after such energy and chaos, this could only affect the audience’s reception of the play. It was just difficult to decipher if this play was intending to make a point in regards to depression — particularly of the duality of outward contentment and inward emptiness — or if it was just confused in its style: comedic or dramatic. But this drop in mood does not compare to that in the second act.
Act II was particularly tedious and watery. Aunt Jemima’s arrival made for an irksome play between her ignorance and the group’s constant pleading for her to get help, which continued right the way through. On top of this, Bentley’s characterisation lacked physicality and vitality, particularly when Aunt Jemima unknowingly takes drugs. When Aunt Jemima first starts speaking about fairies, for example, there was no sense of delirium in Bentley’s performance; in fact, I initially thought the play had simply taken a weird turn, her change was so subtle.
Furthermore, shifting the focus from Hugo to Barbara was a thistly decision, for me. It was almost as if this play were two in one. Barbara’s narrative, though referenced slightly, before the end of Act I, seemed to arise from nowhere. I thought it would have been better to have Barbara planning, unbeknownst to us, to play along with Hugo, causing everyone else to think her deranged in enabling him, to ultimately find a way to save the group. Or an ending entailing a suspended opening of the box to see if the dog was, in facts dead or not. In other words, anything else that could have linked back back to the main narrative rather than creating another one independent to it.
I was originally going to give this play a mark of 4.5 Stars, but when it came to the second act, this plummeted quickly. It simply became too much of a good thing. Ideally, I would like to give this play a 3.75; it was just such a shame that the second act let the first down.
This play should have ended at the interval, as comical as the idea of Hugo taking so many people hostage is. If executed better, the arrival of Aunt Jemima could have been one final blast, but I just feel that her character is unnecessary in this story. The dead dog being thrown out of the window, Madeline being stabbed a second time, Aunt Jemima taking drugs — it is important to consider when comedic absurdity is starting to go too far.
All of this said, performers’ comic timing was superb, making this play a hilarious treat. Scenes flowed together nicely, and, overall, the play was well thought-out in regards to its composition and absurdity. Though its success dwindled in the second half, the power of the first leaves a generous sense of enjoyment in the mind.
“A genius exploration into the quest for happiness of a serial hostage-holder. Relentless in its entertaining commotion and comedy.”