Sleeping Dogs at Barons Court Theatre is a great big mish-mash of a production with lots of very good ideas hampered by twisting plot lines that cry out for some serious unravelling.
It is about a very successful couple whose perfect world is turned upside down when a blackmailer turns up from Australia, through which the playwright, Brenda Gottsche, explores the importance of truth in a relationship when the person you thought you knew for 20 years turns out to be somebody different.
This is an interesting (if well worked) premise and could have made for a good thought provoking evening, but the rambling script would have benefited from careful editing, and sloppy direction adds to the confusion.
The play is made up of lots little scenes where two or three, characters pop up, have a short conversation, then go off again. These are punctuated by complicated scene changes as the cast shuffle chairs and the theatre becomes a radio station while the audience listens to snatches of phone-ins to a psychologist agony aunt.
There’s just too much going on.
The agony aunt is the lovely, fragile Roz (Barbara Hartwell), who turns out to have more fire in her belly than her delicate persona suggests. She’s married to novelist Leo (Edmund Dehn), who exhibits a believable level of middle-class, middle-age comfort when his latest novel has entered the best seller list and he’s making a fortune. They wallow contentedly in their happiness, success and security. But all is not as it seems.
The play opens with Roz at a funeral, so we are alerted that somebody will die but have to wait until the opening of the second half for more details. It takes even longer to find our who it was but little tension is generated because of the complexity of the writing – you’re too busy trying to work out what’s going on to worry about who died.
The family is completed by their son Alex, played by the broodingly handsome Joel Dyer. He punctures their smugness by finding Jesus and hinting that he may be gay, causing his parents all sorts of angst. Look out for Joel: this is his first professional performance and he handles it faultlessly. Many of the genuinely funny lines are his and his comic timing is nigh on perfect.
So far so good. Then blackmailer Andy (Andrew William Robb) arrives, an intriguing but clichéd character who alternates charm with menace to great effect, and then the plot flies off in all sorts of directions. This is where all those mini-scenes fall down, they aren’t long enough for real character development or proper exploration of Gottsche’s many ideas.
Another flaw is that the plot is moved along by girly twosomes between Roz and her best friend the lovely, sensible Anna (Fiona Watson), who is also Leo’s therapist. Anna’s role in this is peripheral (apart from helping to shuffle chairs) and with a plot that is already top heavy and in dire need of shortening, I’m sorry to say she wasn’t really necessary.
Sleeping Dogs could have been a very good play, it has many of the right ingredients, including an excellent cast, but is let down by slackness in the script and in the direction.
Sleeping Dogs continues at Barons Court Theatre until February 19. PERFORMANCES: Tuesdays – Saturdays (7.30 p.m.) Sundays (6.30 p.m.) Additional Matinees (Saturdays 2.30 p.m.)
ADMISSION: £12 (Concessions: £10)
BOX OFFICE: 020 8932 4747 (Tickets now on sale)
EMAIL BOOKINGS: Email performance required and number of tickets to email@example.com and pay for them in cash on the night.
Barons Court Theatre is at the Curtains Up at 28a Comeragh Road, London W14.
To buy tickets, contact the box office on 0208 932 4747 or email firstname.lastname@example.org stating performance date and number of tickets required.
February 10, 2012