as moving as it is horrifying

— REVIEW | West Australian, dogmeat

A Savage Beauty in ‘Dogmeat’

Dogmeat By Tobias Manderson-Galvin


PICA Performance Space

MKA, the much-admired Melbourne company established four years ago to foster new writing for the theatre, makes its Perth debut with a revival of its first play, co-founder Tobias Manderson-Galvin’s Dogmeat. (Two of its past works, Nathaniel Moncrieff’s Sleepyhead and Tinkertown, have had Blue Room productions in the past couple of years).

The play has built a formidable reputation, and this savage, purgative production directed by John Kachoyan shows why. There is a desperate poetry in Manderson-Galvin’s writing that requires great care in its staging, and Kachoyan and his fine cast gives it a clarity and precision that lets the writer’s words breathe.

Or gasp, snarl and whimper. The story of Dogmeat (Manderson-Galvin), a boy kept on a chain and fed pet food, is brutal, merciless and sad. He’s manacled first by his sentimental, disastrous parents (Luke Mulquiney and Devon Lang Wilton) and then, somehow, by Coyote (Mulquiney) and Lucky (Lang Wilton), a pair of chroming, perilous, whack jobs reminiscent, especially in a catastrophic hold-up scene, of Quentin Tarantino’s all-time loser heisters Pumpkin and Honey Bunny in Pulp Fiction.

Looming over all of them is the Man (Eric Gardiner) a fastidious sadist (“I like kicking; I like screaming.”) who wreaks psychotic violence and death on dog and man alike. Not that he’s alone in his barbarity; Coyote pulverises Dogmeat with a belt for throwing up over the laundry, while HED P.E’s No Rest for the Wicked (We are the Truth) discharges around them.

As Dogmeat says, in this nightmare of a world “Everything is used. Everything is wasted. They leave the corpse, and it decays. And the earth swallows it up.”

Ultimately, Dogmeat is as moving as it is horrifying. Manderson-Galvin is a poet as well as a playwright, and the blank verse of much of the dialogue is of deep quality and beauty.

He also understands the Well Made Play. For all its carnage and obscenity, Dogmeat tells its story with a meticulous respect for narrative very much in the great tradition of knockabout Australian theatre.

It’s little surprise to learn Dogmeat’s first season was a co-production with Melbourne’s iconic La Mama. I’ve no doubt the Burstalls, Jack Hibberd, Alex Buzo and the other pioneers of our modern stage would recognize what Manderson-Galvin, Kachoyan and MKA are about, and I’m just as sure they’d approve.

There’s an encore.

A little later in the evening, under the Moreton Bay Fig behind PICA, MKA are giving readings of a work-in-progress, Will Mcbride’s Party Time Giftset, directed by MKA’s resident director Kat Henry. Performed on the night I saw it by Matt Whitty, it’s a love story with first and second-degree burns featuring (with nice timing) Bruce Springsteen, Peter Brock, James Dean, and starring Brian and Natalie from Koondoola.

It’s clever, funny (and free), and, this Saturday night, it will be performed by a stellar cast of 25 (if they can round them up in time).

Dogmeat ends on February 8.