Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | The Dogs of War at the Old Red Lion Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | The Dogs of War at the Old Red Lion Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | The Dogs of War at the Old Red Lion Theatre
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31 May REVIEW: The Dogs of War at the Old Red Lion Theatre

Pamela Raith Photography_The Dogs of War_008“Mental health” is one of those bizarre phrases where it’s mere mention makes you instantly imagine a vision of it’s absence, evoking thoughts of depression, or schizophrenia, or anorexia, just three of the hundreds of disorders that point to a lack of mental health rather than an abundance. And whilst suffering from a mental health problem is something that always seems to happen to someone else, the reality is that 1 in 4 people experience it every year. Yes, every year. And yes, one in four. And yet it’s still, somehow, heavily stigmatised.

If 25% of the population will suffer from a mental health disorder every year, then inevitably more than that will be living with, or supporting someone going through it, and without detracting from the struggle of the sufferer, cohabiting with someone experiencing a mental health problem can be (though isn’t always) a very difficult experience. To feel both a responsibility and a loyalty to that person, whilst seeing their “normal” altered, and having your relationship involuntarily adjusted can take its toll on those people not traditionally cared for by professional services. Trust me on that one.

A startlingly bold play from Tim Foley, and directed by Tom O’Brien, The Dogs of War puts these issues centre stage, not only promoting awareness, but exploring ideas far more complex than the well-meaning yet superficial “mental illness exists” message, or tabloid favourite “crazy people do scary things” obsession. Instead, we’re taken on a journey inside the mind of one individual, an individual who at first glance seems ”normal”, a tall, attractive young man well cast in Richard Southgate, fulfilling the majority of the societal expectations thrown at him, interested in video games and enjoying the occasional indulgence in an adult website.

Of course, it cannot be a straightforward journey Pamela Raith Photography_The Dogs of War_011through Johnny’s mind, and via his eyes we’re asked to consider the interplay – or is it a trade off? – between loyalty and sacrifice (if you live with, love, or just care about someone with mental health difficulties, to what extent should – and could – we expect you to stand by and support that person? When should you walk away? And at what point do you just have to put yourself first?). It ponders the possibility of interrupting that inexorable cycle of illness propagating between generations, and considers a lifetime on psychiatric medication, the transformational effect it can have in both improving symptoms, and having to cope with side effects, as well as a nod to the fact that medication is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution. A sensitive and realistic approach to psychological concerns, it’s clear why Rethink Mental Health have thrown their weight behind the production.

As intense as it sounds, The Dogs of War is constantly lifted with dark humour thanks to a witty and well-judged script. The result is a show that’s as enjoyable as it is potent, the deciding factor of which is the way it’s brought alive through scene and sound; with a set more functional than some London bedsits that are actually rented out (yes, the taps work, there’s a fridge AND the kettle actually boils), Libby Todd’s set design succinctly visualises a distinction between perceived reality and conscious imagination, reinforced through Divisions’ soundscape, offering a reminder on the nature of hallucinations and the distortion of perceived reality.

Emotionally saturated yet wickedly funny, The Dogs of War adds colour to the conversation on psychological wellbeing, whilst revelling in the nuances of the script. Playing on that very English of notions that a cup of tea can solve anything, it’s a show with just enough quirk to be memorable, whilst never crossing over to the impenetrable.

For tickets and information:
Venue: The Old Red Lion Theatre
Dates: 26th May – 20th June 2015
Images: Pamela Raith

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here