A response to the DOGFIGHT review backlash
The beauty of theatre is that it is subjective. People take different things from a show. Some people love West Side Story, others hate it and that’s ok. So despite my giving a previous production of Dogfight 4* in 2014, I accept that other people (like the reviewer who covered this show for me) may not like it.
I don’t give my reviewing team a template to work from when reviewing a show, I try to let them have their own style and so I don’t insist they mention direction, choreography, lighting etc unless they feel they want to.
Everyone is telling me how offended they are by the review, and as freedom of speech, they are entitled to their opinion. Exactly the same as how my reviewer is entitled to express her offence and opinion on the subject matter of the show.
The only reason I am responding to some of the comments raised from this review is that everyone online seems to be suggesting that it is “insulting and degrading” toward the performers. I find this confusing as the review speaks very highly of the cast.
For context, this is everything the review says about the cast:
The students actually do a sterling job with what they have been given. Steven Lewis-Johnston as Eddie has good presence and a strong singing voice. Matthew Michaels is convincingly hideous as his macho mate Bernstein and Joe Munn is good as the naïve, vulnerable Boland.
Charlotte Coles is powerful as Marcy, packing a punch with the song “Dogfight”, while Claire Keenan is the real stand out as Rose. If Waitress is looking for a new Dawn in the future, Keenan has just the right mix of vulnerability, comedic edge and powerhouse voice for that role. Definitely one to watch.
It is difficult to comment on the other women in the cast as they are just cannon fodder. I could not help wondering whether these were the naughty students, the constantly late to class, dog ate my homework group. Was this their punishment?
Many people seem to be misreading the part about the ‘other women’ in the show. Referring to them as ‘cannon fodder’ (a war based pun) meaning that they are sadly underused in the show and not given an opportunity to shine. I’m not sure why the entire world seems to think it is derogatory towards the cast.
Readers are entitled to be offended, just as my reviewer is entitled to be offended by the story of the show but please read things properly before commenting on them and suggesting there has been anything negative said about these performers.
We often skim read things in this modern age and sometimes misread or misunderstand things. Just like one person who tweeted “does Eliza Wilmot know how to write reviews?” the answer is probably not because she is (clearly credited as) the photographer of the show. There are also people questioning why I gave the production 4* in 2014 and 1* in 2019, again not noticing they were written by other people.
A statement from reviewer Emma Heath
When reviewing I try hard not to give too much detail of the story to avoid spoilers for anyone planning to go. To explain my issues with Dogfight I will have to go into the story in more depth so *spoiler alert* warning.
In my opinion, the misogyny of Dogfight is on two levels, the obvious one of how the marines treat the women but more damaging is the manner of the writing and production.
The narrative of men treating women badly is not unusual for a theatre production (sadly) but what is missing here is any sort of challenge overt, covert, obvious or implied to the behaviour of the characters. The toxic masculinity is simply relentless.
The build-up and delivery of the “dogfight” takes up the first hour of a production that is only 1 hour 45 minutes long. The production presents the women that we see being taken along to the dogfight as ugly by dressing them in dowdy clothes and having them all wear glasses, except for Marcy the prostitute who is presented as ugly by having a black tooth. That’s just offensive. They are actors, we are an audience, we can understand the story.
After Rose understands why Eddie has taken her to the party, she punches him and leaves. We are expected to believe that this punch has enlightened him as we next see him stopping his buddies from raping a prostitute. The prostitute is still intimidated into saying yes to sex with Boland. Coercing someone into sex through threats is rape. Here we are invited to admire Eddie for stopping a gang rape and accept misogynist bullshit that says if a prostitute is paid for sex it is not rape even when she has said no.
A lot of the backlash to my review suggests that I have been unkind to the cast and musicians of the British Theatre Academy. This is not true. I specifically state very early in the review that “This is absolutely no criticism of the cast and musicians who were very good” and go on to say “The students actually do a sterling job with what they have been given“ and finish the review by saying “Shame on whoever chose this musical. These students deserved better”
Dean Johnson the director of the show, states that referring to “the girls of the company as “fodder” is degrading at best”. I used the term “cannon fodder” not “fodder” and did so very specifically. The definition is “soldiers who are regarded as expendable in battle”. I felt it appropriate due to the Vietnam war context of the production and in the sense that the characters that these women play are so non-descript and poorly presented that they are expendable.
The beauty of theatre is that everyone has an opinion and very often people disagree. Long may that continue.
Photo by Eliza Wilmot
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