MusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

A Dog’s Tale – The Holbeck, Leeds

Reviewer: Rich Jevons

Writer: Poppy Hollman

Director: Rachel Gee

Mikron Theatre’s A Dog’s Tale’s intro comes replete with trombone, sax, trumpet and guitar to invite us to an evening of canine capers, loosely based around the life and times of Charles Cruft. Cruft is played with inimitable camp and pomp by James McLean and celebrated as the Prince of Marketing, ‘though it hadn’t been invented yet’. His first show in 1891 was the beginning of a now-legendary brand that continues to this day.

Throwing a spanner in the works is animal rights protester Daniel, with Thomas Cotran playing the muddled and clumsy activist to much hilarity. While Rachel Benson plays Linda, an enthusiastic dog-lover, to equal comic effect. Her pet cross-breed Gary is the subject of an incident that is made out by disgraced Terrier Club Terry judge to be an attack. This idea is disputed by Linda and Daniel who engage on a quest to save him from being classed as a dangerous dog.

We are also introduced to pedigree Queenie who, it is claimed, has a lineage going back to Queen Victoria’s Fluffy. The concept of selective breeding is the subject for the delightful song, How Does a Wolf Become a Pekingese? The cast perform multiple roles, such as in a scene with a Welsh corgi, a German dog called Heinrich, and a stuffed dog simply there to pad out Cruft’s show’s numbers.

The dog as man’s best friend is celebrated throughout, such as their use by army and police, for the blind or diabetic, and as a therapeutic tool. And Gary becomes the subject of obedience training with ‘jerks’ to command and order, but Daniel sees this as a form of oppression and attempts to intervene.

After the interval we witness the hilarious rap song Dogs vs. Cats, with bow-wows countered by miaows. More drama comes when it seems Queenie has been ‘knobbled’, or at least is not at all herself, and Gary, having slipped the lead, is involved with a chase for the cowardly Terry. Perhaps the most endearing of the songs is Animo et Fide (with courage and faith), that champions dogs as man’s helper in so many ways. And for a fabulous finale that wins over even feline fans is Be More Dog which concludes ‘doggedness is good for you’.

Composer and MD Rebekah Hughes really makes the show accessible and entertaining while Poppy Hollman’s writing manages to be both witty and flippant but also with some serious sugar-coated messages in there. Director Rachel Gee has really brought out the best of a highly talented cast and the outdoor setting with Celia Perkins’ design on such a summer’s evening is simply sumptuous.

Touring nationally until 18th September

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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