Thursday, 14 August 2014

Dogfight - Review

Southwark Playhouse, London


Music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Book by Peter Duchan
Directed by Matt Ryan

Laura Jane Matthewson and Jamie Muscato

In 1991 the Warner Brothers movie Dogfight, starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, told of a quirky poignant romance between Rose and Eddie, born out of the cruellest of games. Set up by a group of young Marines the night before they deploy to Vietnam, the dogfight demands each Marine competes to bring the ugliest girl they can find to the party. It makes for a harsh dynamic that is uncomfortably recognisable.

In 2012, the young composing duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, together with bookwriter Peter Duchan translated the compelling saga into an off-Broadway show that opened to rave reviews. Their cast album followed some months later (reviewed here on its UK release) but it has taken until now, and the inspirational vision of Danielle Tarento arguably the most dynamic of London’s off-West End producers, to carry the show across the pond.

The Southwark Playhouse cast bring a wonderful energy to Pasek & Paul’s vibrant and exciting compositions. Making her professional debut, Laura Jane Matthewson shines as Rose, an unsophisticated, naive country girl with an innocent  purity. Never sentimental, she displays an intelligence and strength clearly demonstrating that innocent doesn't mean stupid. She continually challenges Eddie about his anger and bad language, going on to beat him at his own game in a hilarious second act exchange. Jamie Muscato plays a multi faceted Eddie, as Rose draws his vulnerable softer self out from the on-display tough, angry, bullshitting Marine, deserted by his father as an infant. Both voices singing with technical brilliance and soul-searing intensity.

Eddie is well supported by his buddy marines, notably the bespectacled Bernstein played by Nicholas Corre and Hardman Boland played by Cellen Chugg Jones, all three bonded by Bee tattoos. Amanda Minihan, not long stepped off the Arcola’s wonderful Carousel gives a beautiful depth, warmth and musicality to Rose's mother, whilst Rebecca Trehearn plays hooker Marcy with perceptive humour and fantastic vocals.

Duchan’s book makes judicious use of the movie's simply crafted screenplay. George Dyer conducts a tight, nuanced band enhanced by some beautiful string playing, fully releasing the score as the cast deliver punchy lyrics, lush harmonies, and some beautifully judged pianissimo moments. Impressive choreography by Lucie Pankhurst with some carefully detailed and seamless scene links holds the story. Matt Ryan’s powerfully realised production demonstrating that crass attitudes and behaviour all hide a desperate need for purpose and a sense of belonging. In an increasingly fractured world, Dogfight speaks to us on many many levels. Unquestionably a must-see show, the performances are stunning and the writing sparkles. 

Runs until 13th September 2014

Guest reviewer - Catherine Francoise

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