1. Man and woman laughing
    Photograph: Supplied | Clare Hawley
  2. Man smoking
    Photograph: Supplied | Clare Hawley
  3. Girl upset while man glares in background
    Photograph: Supplied | Clare Hawley
  4. Girl spraying legs with water
    Photograph: Supplied | Clare Hawley
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Recommended



3 out of 5 stars

Presented with a side of alcohol addiction, this raw new play explores OCD from a genderqueer perspective – but does it offer catharsis?


Time Out says

When you walk into a show with as many content warnings as this one, you’re bracing
yourself for something harrowing. Penned by playwright Shayne (just Shayne) and
premiering at KXT on Broadway, dog was developed with the aim of bringing visibility to
addiction and mental illness – psychological prisons which the playwright knows well. The
writing clearly comes from a welter of lived experience, and the scenes that play out are
raw. Sensitive viewers be warned: while a mental health coordinator was involved in
bringing this story to the stage, there is a lot to be triggered by. There’s also a lot to leave
one troubled.

Our two struggling characters are ‘Brother’ (he/him) played by Jack Patten, and ‘Sister’
(they/them) played by Laneikka Denne. The siblings have exiled themselves to some remote outback shack, the sound of crickets transmitting slow, rolling waves through the hot air. Brother, an emotionally lost spare part in the wake of a break-up, scoops bottle after bottle from an esky as he works on a beaten-up motorbike. He holds the liquor well, until he doesn’t.

Meanwhile, Sister’s Contamination Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is in a very bad way. In extended and repeated sequences, we see Denne peel off all their clothes (emphasis on all) and spray their naked body with Dettol. Under a dimmed stage light, we see them quivering with the insuperable necessity and overwhelming shame of the ritual. As both characters played out their unhealthy coping mechanisms, this critic was prompted to question: if the visibility represented is nothing but wretched, what is being achieved? What does this play do beyond make its audience witness to suffering?

In fact, in a move that is counterintuitive to the aim of telling this story, Sister is nothing but abject. We see them only as an exhausted bundle of hyper-fixated behaviours, controlled by a monstrous puppeteer of the mind. They harm their own pet, that they love more than anything – and plot-wise, nothing follows. This titular puppy dog is just a grey towel, with a rubber band twisted around to bulge out a rudimentary head. There’s no features – no eyes, nose, or ears. I realised later this probably wasn’t lazy puppet-making, but a choice of extreme prop abstraction, perhaps in the hope that us viewers wouldn’t be traumatised to the eyeballs when the animal cruelty begins.

Denne’s stooped, slackened, dismal portrayal, gives no sense of a person beyond the
disorder. It is not easy to find someone to identify with or ache for throughout all of Kim
Hardwick’s slow-paced direction. The case is very different for Brother. Part of this may be because Patten is a bloody legend of a newcomer to our stages. For his “yeah, nah” singlet-wearing young charmer, Patten has built up a brilliant repertoire of casual idiosyncrasies. You’re in the middle of the bleakest kind of scene, and then Patten will scuff his Heath Ledger hair, or grumble in a particular way, and you find your mouth tugging sideways and up in appreciation for this loveable character, for this textured craft. With KXT’s unique traverse stage set-up, (where two banks of audience seating face one another from across a corridor of stage) I watched as the eyes of fellow audience members followed Patten where he went, frequently lighting up.

Brother is also given character gradations and an arc (a delayed, then rapidly downwards
one) where Sister isn’t. As he moves aimlessly between beer supply and bike, we see his
addiction slowly work upon him. Pratten plays a great young bloke, but his limbs-scattering
drunk is painfully recognisable too. Even at his most pathetic, you still care about him.

Still, with Brother as with Sister, this self-destructive spiral is played out as though
inevitable. There’s no nuance, just despair.

It's hard to say how aware the siblings are of each other’s battles. While there is much love
in the act of simply being present, they can’t seem to see or reach outside themselves to
intervene. Maybe they know from experience that they don’t have the power to make the
other stop.

I know mental illness pretty well, in myself and in a sibling relationship. I know my own
particular corner of its asylums, its isolations, and its burrowing shames. It is a brave, brave thing to tell these kinds of stories. But the burden of telling is great. Even if they couldn’t always be strong, or beautiful, I wanted Sister to prove to me in this play that they could. It pained me to see them so reduced and without redemption. 

Dog is playing at KXT on Broadway until June 8, 2024. The show is recommended for ages
18+. Find out more and book tickets over here.

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