During university break, Johnny visits his parents at home in “the middle of nowhere”, Northern Ireland. Both parents have taken early retirement because his mother is mentally ill. Johnny’s father desperately tries to keep on top of the family’s finances, while Johnny himself sways between obsessing over his video game and freaking out about the fact that the three family dogs have become invisible to him. He’s so busy trying not to slip into madness that he doesn’t notice he already did: he suffers from delusions of grandeur and mentally converses with Cleopatra. The backdrop of a deeply disturbed relationship between mother and son provides a platform for the interesting dynamic between husband and ill wife. This dark comedy is a powerful portrayal how mental issues affect loved ones.
Richard Southgate, Maggie O’Brien and Paul Stonehouse perform the family drama on a lovingly designed stage – a kitchen area where everything is slightly askew, just as the domestic bliss. At the beginning of the play, all characters seem equally disturbed, probing the question whether maybe we are all a little mentally unstable. More than once it is asked: Where does a (possibly spiteful) character end and mental illness begin?
The characters of Melanie McHugh do a great job subtly interrupting the family structure further, tearing apart the last bit of bond that still connected father, mother and son.
Dogs of War is Tim Foley’s impressive first full-length play. His debut already has a strikingly recognisable voice, is coherent, heart-breaking and full of sharp wit. The performances of all actors as directed by Tom O’Brien are on point and draw the audience deep into the intimate family space. This play is an absolute gem and stands out from the many pub theatre performances in London. If Tim Foley continues his writing career in this fashion, he is destined to go big.
Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Photo by: Pamela Raith Photography
Dogs of War is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 20 June 2015. Click here for more information