Belvoir's popular 2015 double-bill romcom returns for an encore season, starring Twilight pin-up Xavier Samuels as a blinged-up feline rapper
When The Dog/The Cat opened in Belvoir’s Downstairs theatre in June 2015, it felt like a little ray of sunshine after months of programming that left this Belvoir regular feeling underwhelmed (Elektra/Orestes), disappointed (Mother Courage and her Children) and perplexed (The Wizard of Oz).
By contrast, The Dog/The Cat, a playful double bill of 40-minute plays penned by Brendan Cowell and Lally Katz, felt like something conceived as a crowd-pleaser and delivered intact – a little love letter to theatregoers at a time when some were starting to think, “It’s not me, it’s you”.
The critical reception was universally warm, the season quickly sold out, and extra dates were added – so reviving it for a run in the Upstairs Theatre must have been as close to a no-brainer as you can get in theatre programming, though not entirely without hazard. It’s a big stage to fill with a couple of light-hearted three-handers whose charm resided in their low budget production values and physical intimacy as much as the wit of the writing.
Wisely, this re-up doesn’t add any additional bells and whistles complexity. It remains an uncomplicated pleasure.
In The Dog, Cowell transports the audience to an off-leash park in Newtown, one frequented by Ben, a slovenly and borderline depressed screenwriter (Xavier Samuel), his contrastingly buttoned-up and optimistic housemate Marcus (Benedict Hardie), their terrier Jerry Seinfeld, and Miracle (Sheridan Harbridge), a dog-owning singleton and economics lecturer at Sydney University who is wise to the chat-up yet just lonely enough to be vulnerable to Ben and Marcus’ charms.
After interval, Katz relates the unconnected story of a relationship break-up between Alex (Harbridge) and Albert (Hardie) and the unrecognised feelings of the ex-couple’s cat (Samuel, in a sleek Mel Page-designed onesie).
Cowell’s humour is acerbic, the world he creates rings truthful. He has a keen eye for the bullshit we feed ourselves as well as those around us. Katz meanwhile, allows herself a longer imaginative leash in a playful spin on romantic comedy tropes that allow for characters to burst into song.
Though the pieces were written independently, occasionally a line is thrown across to suggest otherwise, as when Marcus’ disdain for Brazilian martial arts in The Dog is made flesh in the form of Jeff, the capoeira instructor Alex begins dating in The Cat. Little moments, sure, but they are surprisingly effective in bonding the plays.
The original production, directed and designed by Ralph Myers, was a simple black box with a poo disposal bin and a park bench for The Dog; a couch for The Cat. This scaled-up incarnation is alike in all respects, though with substantially more light thrown at it (by Damien Cooper).
With a distant back row to consider this time around, the amplitude of the performances has increased (Anthea Williams re-rehearsed the plays; Myers flew in from London for the tech). Hardie shines as the wheatgrass smoothie-sucking Marcus. Samuel is very appealing as Katz’s hip-hop obsessed cat and his rap rocks the house.
Coming to this production straight off Calamity Jane at the Hayes Theatre, Harbridge steps into the role originated by Andrea Demetriades with just over a week of rehearsals under her belt. Her performance will evolve, no doubt, but in these early shows, her comic chops serve her well.
Looking for a date-night icebreaker at the theatre? Swipe right, ‘cos this is the one.