The hounds of hate

Inés Murray Gómez reviews Dublin’s Fringe Festival’s Dog Shit

As spectators arrive at the New Theatre and choose their seats it becomes apparent that most of them know each other. Every new person entering the room is greeted by a loud chorus of voices and coordinated waves coming from one corner of the room or another. It’s opening night, September 12th, and the room is buzzing and expectant. With a capacity of only 66 people, the New Theatre is packed to its limit with audience members barely managing to squeeze through the aisles to their seats. I can’t help but hear the person behind me discussing her new job with her friends as I watch the stage before me. Assessing the scene, I find the decor (Eimear Hussey) colourful and vibrant. The wall is occupied by a huge board decorated with toys and lettering that spells out ‘Sean.’ In front of the sign is a sofa with a mess of cushions and blankets piled up on it. To the right is a dog crate with a small piece of fabric thrown on it and an assortment of objects surrounding it. As I try to discern them, the lights begin to dim and the audience falls silent. The lump on the sofa uncovers itself and a young woman appears, holding a bottle of pills and some drink. At first it seems like she might actually do it, but then there is the noise of someone at the door and she discards them behind a cushion.

Soon, a small get-together has gathered on stage. It is like this that the audience is introduced to the world of Emma (Claire Gleeson), Raven (Aoife Morgan Jones) and Nora (Sasha Carberry Sharma). A group of friends with a shared love for theatre and their dogs (though not each other’s dogs), and with distinct and often clashing personalities. Each character is carefully constructed, from their mannerisms brought to life by director Ursula McGwinn to their costumes (Juliana Schmidt), all traits serve to create a clear impression of each young woman’s identity and motivations. Emma, the host, is quite gloomy and a tad whimsical. She has recently received a grant for her writing, but more recently heard the news that she is being evicted from her apartment. Raven is idealistic, often to the point of being judgemental, and has a jealous streak. Nora is ambitious and pragmatic, with persisting feelings of inferiority. She has recently left her job at the theatre company for a better paid position in a tech company. This company is where she meets her boyfriend, Obi (Sodiq Ajibola Abiola), a recent immigrant to Ireland with a friendly and outgoing disposition. He is quite interested in intellectual and philosophical matters, which he brings up often throughout the night, to the chagrin of Nora and the discomfort of Raven.

Through this cast of varied characters, the play explores serious topics, although the tone remains light and comedic. Primarily, the play explores the nature of theatre-making within the context of modern-day Ireland. Nora’s departure from the theatre company raises questions within the group about the importance of staying true to one’s convictions, as well as the privilege required to do so and the value of pragmatism. The piece remains playful, featuring frequent tongue-in-cheek digs at theatre makers’ manners and pretensions, which the audience found particularly funny, and facetious commentary on economic and political aspects of Irish life. The eclectic cast of characters represent a variety of approaches to life, all explored comprehensively and with consideration for their respective merits and downsides.

The plot climax and funniest part of the play  arrives around a third of the way in, when the group discovers dog shit behind the couch. They immediately launch into a heated debate over which of their dogs is responsible. During this discussion, each animal comes to represent its owner, and the women’s complaints about each other’s pets are deeply revealing of their biases and flaws. This moment, further emphasising their personalities, is a testament to the quality of Bertrand-Webb’s writing. At this point, the piece becomes chaotic as outright hostility develops between the characters. Emma suddenly confesses that she has been thinking of killing Sean, her dog. He is old and sick, she cannot find accommodation in Dublin that takes pets, and moving away would mean giving up the grant. Raven and Nora are horrified, but Obi is taken with this idea and emphatically agrees with Emma, creating distance between him and Nora. 

“Bertrand-Webb’s writing carefully weaves these emotional reflections with comedic moments which persist until the very end”

During the final moments of the play, the characters are thrown into a complicated moral discussion which finally splits the group in two. The writing carefully lays out the ultimate conclusion: Sean has to die. Raven and Nora flee the apartment horrified and, left alone, Obi and Emma confront the moral implications of their choice. With them, the viewer is invited to consider what they would do under these circumstances, and the limits they would have in a situation like Emma finds herself in. Bertrand-Webb’s writing carefully weaves these emotional reflections with comedic moments which persist until the very end. The play concludes like it began, with a jolt of energy, and as the cast re-enter the stage to bow, laughter and conversation fills the room once again.