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The Dog in the Manger

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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The updating of this 17th Century play, by the Spanish playwright Lope de Vega, to 1950s Italy doesn't quite show us La Dolce Vita but a Countess, who in Helen Beaumont's Diana - reflecting the beauty and elegance of Grace Kelly but with the drive, anger and aggression of Margaret Thatcher - is an unmarried woman bored with life and the ardour of two suitors (a swashbuckling Marquis and her somewhat anally retentive cousin). She suddenly finds herself entranced by her personal secretary when she finds out that he is courting one of her maids and determines that she will do anything to keep him to herself.

Therein lies the plot of this comedy as each try to outdo each other in a series of farcical interludes; the plot is reminiscent of Twelfth Night - one wonders if they were drawn from similar source material - only here it is played for laughs 'Commedia' style in what amounts to a very entertaining piece.

Rogues' Gallery Theatre Company's production is an all out assault on the senses from a (mainly) young and energetic cast who clearly delight in 'strutting their hour' upon the stage, but for whom, at times, director Oliver Rose should have instructed “less is more”; when the cast do internalise they evidence a real depth of character that at times seems superficial and 'worn' rather than 'inhabited'.

The tiered wooden stage that allows for a variety of levels makes many of the moves seem clumsy and inelegant, especially as the actors pound up and down it or leap from it sending echoes and reverberations round the hall, obliterating the dialogue, which is all too often delivered at breakneck speed and shouted out far louder than is necessary, turning this comedy into melodrama for most of the first half. However in the second half it is as if the coach has had a word at half-time and the cast suddenly develop a depth that has been hitherto hidden, pace and timing are well balanced and  the motives and desires become clear, drawing the audience to fully enjoy the subtleties and nuances and wit that this translation (by David Johnstone) offers.

This is a rarely performed piece that deserves a wider outing and makes the trek into the darkest depths of Shoreditch worthwhile.

- Dave Jordan


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