The Dog/The Cat, Hope Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

Dividing up shared belongings after a breakup is awful, but custody battles are even worse – even if they are over a pet. With emotions running high, fallouts are inevitable when it comes to who gets to keep Fluffy or Fido. These two, one-act plays explore relationship dynamics through a filter of pet ownership, though both struggle to translate big ideas into coherent storytelling.

Ben (Thomas Blackburne) and Marcus (Frederick Di Rosa) are flatmates who jointly decided to get a dog, and Miracle (Gemma Harvey) is a newly single dog owner. The three regularly see each other at the local dog park and become friends – and more. Their story spans more than a year, but big gaps in time between each scene deny the audience the intricacies of their relationships’ development. In the scenes we do see, particularly at the beginning, the characters are unconvincing what with how much personal information they share straight away with strangers. The dialogue is clumsy and overly obvious in order to inform us of recent, not shown developments, and the heightened, comedic acting is a blunt force that further buries any hope of subtlety. There are some nice moments of vulnerability, but they are always truncated by The Dog‘s propensity for situational comedy and jokes.

The Cat takes a different approach to comedy, but its inconsistent use of absurdity and music make it dramaturgically clumsy and stylistically muddled. When Alex (Harvey) and Albert (Di Rosa) break up, they decide to share custody of Cat (Blackburne, in a cat costume). Scenes of them handing Cat back and forth in the park at the weekend are interspersed with the two humans rebuilding their lives and dating, with some moments that are genuinely funny. Poignancy is skirted through Cat’s character evolution, and an increasingly bizarre story that ends with little plausibility.

Both short plays desperately need to be longer. The writers cram stories that are much too complex into a length that doesn’t serve them by a long shot, and the changeable tone reads as noncommittal writing rather than layered. Director Sharon Burrell does her best to find convincing rhythms, but the plot progressions are too rushed and the narratives too patchy to read as polished new plays.

The Dog/The Cat runs through 22 September.

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