DramaLondonReview

The Dog Walker – Jermyn Street Theatre, London

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Writer: Paul Minx

Director: Harry Burton

In big cities, dog walkers often feel as if they exist in a parallel universe, exchanging greetings and smiles with each other while the rest of the population goes about its business obliviously, showing nothing better than indifference. American playwright Paul Minx recognises that there is something about canines that brings human beings together with this edgy comic two-hander, set entirely in a cramped apartment in New York City.

The tiny Jermyn street theatre does “cramped” well and it looks as if designer Isabella van Braeckel has collected litter from nearby Piccadilly Circus for her set, which is cluttered, untidy and could be as filthy as the script describes it. It is the home of Keri (Victoria Yeates), a reclusive writer of e-books and a pill-popping neurotic. She dotes on her 16-year-old Pekinese bitch, inappropriately named Wolfgang Amadeus. We gather from the opening scene that Keri is barking mad.

Herbert (Andrew Dennis) is a professional dog walker of Jamaican origin, employed by the International Pups agency. Arriving to take Wolfgang A for a stroll, slyly he takes a swig from a bottle of vodka, before announcing to Keri that he is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous who has been sober for 17 years. He is sexually repressed, takes all his guidance from “Mummy” and we gather from the opening scene that Herbert is also barking mad.

Odd couple comedies, in the style of Neil Simon, are not a rarity, but attempts by this one to make itself distinctive lead just to it moving from the predictable to the unpalatable. The only direction that the play can take is towards the troubled pair finding some sort of redemption through each other, but, if Minx intended these two characters to become loveable, Harry Burton’s overcooked production lets him down. Yeates and Dennis give their all, often pushing their performances to levels of near-hysteria, but Keri and Herbert are always more irksome than quirky, and empathy is in as short supply as laughter.

Happily, no dogs have been harmed in the staging of this production, but, sadly, no real dogs appear in it. The running time is around 90 minutes, with no interval, and many in the audience could feel a strong urge to go walkies long before the end.

Runs until 7 March 2020

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