This was my first trip to the Southwark Playhouse. I have to admit fringe venues tend to scare me quite a lot, well, perhaps not scare, more like intimidate. But I didn’t want to miss my chance to see a production of Dogfight in the flesh (I’ve really enjoyed the off-broadway cast recording since discovering it last year), so off I toddled to the south side of the river.
I attended the fourth preview of this production, so please bear that in mind when reading the rest of my review!
With music and lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul and a book by Peter Duchan; Dogfight tells the story of a group of marines prior to and during the Vietnam war. It focuses on the unlikely developing relationship between Eddie, a marine, played by Jamie Muscato and Rose, a San Fransisco based waitress, played by Laura Jane Matthewson.
The music is what initially attracted me to this production. Songs such as ‘Some Kind of Time’ and ‘Hey Good Lookin” have made me repeat listen to the off-broadway cast album too many times to count. They’re catchy, witty and will wriggle their way into your head for days after listening.
However, I have to admit the rest of the show left me a bit disappointed. The plot is a little fleeting. The production is quite short (2 hours 10 minutes including a 15-minute interval), meaning parts that could have evoked quite an emotional response were brushed over at lightning speed. Instead, the majority of the first act focuses on the Dogfight competition in which the marines compete to find the ugliest girl … I get that this sets up the entire show, I just felt time was needlessly devoted to a premise that could have been quickly latched onto.
I didn’t really connect with the production on any sort of emotional level, but I did have an entertaining evening.
This Production of Dogfight
I thought they did well with the space they had. Although performed in ‘The Large’ studio, the stage is really quite small. The set was minimal but sufficient, props set the core of each scene, then imagination was left to fill in the blanks. They also did well at performing to each of the three walls of audience (the stage is essentially in the middle of a square: 3 sides audience, 1 side band); although at times you were watching the back of peoples heads, it felt like you were observing things happening as they would in real life, as opposed to having everything performed in your direction.
The cast was good. There were a few dicey moments vocally but in general, the standard was high. I particularly enjoyed Jamie Muscato’s performance as Eddie, he really carried the show and Rebecca Trehearn brought vocal excellence coupled with some great comedic relief in one of the supporting roles.
The Southwark Playhouse
As I mentioned, I find fringe venues a little intimidating. They’re often full of outwardly theatrical people, who all seem to know each other, clap and laugh in an overly enthusiastic manner and think everything is wonderful. They make me quite uncomfortable and they were definitely present at this theatre. Ok, so I may be generating a massive stereotype, but it’s something about the way they present an elevated sense of themselves that makes me, someone out of the loop, feel inferior and generally like I shouldn’t be there … disclaimer … this is blatantly my anxiety talking, I’m sure they’re lovely people … but does anyone else know what I mean?
Other than that, I liked the theatre. Seating is unreserved, so get there early enough to ensure you get to sit with your companions, but not so early that you have to stand in what is essentially the corridor to the toilets for too long … I think 20 minutes before the start of the performance is optimal. Also, make sure you buy your programme at the box office as you collect your ticket. The hoarder in me spent a lot of time panicking that I would leave the theatre without a programme, which would have been the first one missing from my collection – other people had them but no-one in sight was selling them … gah!
My Verdict on Dogfight
Overall, despite some of my disappointment with the plot, I did have an enjoyable evening. The production was of a much higher quality than I was anticipating and for a £12 preview ticket (prices go up to £22 once it’s opened) you really can’t go wrong. I give Dogfight a rating of 3/5.