I’m not sure at what point something moves from just being popular to becoming a trend, but containing either onstage narration and/or male nudity seems to be recurring with alarming regularity in plays this year. The Little Dog Laughed contains both, but more on those later!
It’s a tale of a up and coming Hollywood actor, Mitchell Green, who just happens to be a closeted homosexual but using the cover of a relationship with his lesbionic agent, Diane in order to maintain the facade. He’s then thrown when he meets and falls for a rent boy, Alex who has a girlfriend Ellen, and decides that he wants to pursue this relationship and come out to the public. This is played against a sub-plot of Diane trying to get a ‘gay play’ made into a movie as a star vehicle for Mitchell, but needing it to be ‘de-gayed’ in order for it to be made and to maintain Mitch’s straight front.
It’s funny, not hysterical, but funny all the same. There’s some great one-liners, and Douglas Carter Beane has managed the admirable feat of creating some really likeable characters. The story is rings true enough, the lengths to which stars will go to hide their sexuality and the pressures they face in doing so, and the comedic elements were well played. It was less successful though in the more serious scenes when it tried to mine depth through some rather crude name-dropping and lost much of its energy.
As the two amorous boys, Harry Lloyd and Rupert Friend do well, Friend’s initial nervous gaucheness is really quite funny, and Lloyd’s cocky rent boy swagger is nicely believable. And they do develop a really nice relationship together, Mitchell’s slow awakening to his true sexuality and the possibilities therein is nicely countered with the confusion in Alex’s world as to what or who he wants and one really doesn’t know how it is going to play out. My only criticism would be the coyness of their love scenes, there’s some arse-flashing and plenty of parading around in their underwear, but when it actually came down to it, there was little substance to the physicality of their relationship.
Gemma Arterton does extremely well with the barest of material, in what is an underwritten part as Alex’s significant other, wringing some genuine emotion from her short scenes and I look forward to more opportunities to see her on the stage in the future. But it is Tamsin Greig’s show: she’s the one who narrates the play as such, and although I haven’t largely been a fan of narration when it has appeared elsewhere this year, Greig does it with such wit and warmth that it is impossible to resist. She really works the audience, seemingly improvising to the audience responses and laughter (I got a comment in her opening monologue and a wink at the curtain call, I felt very special!) and she fits right in to Jamie Lloyd’s staging which allows her to step out of the action and narrate quite effectively.
All in all, it was good fun, and I’d recommend trying to get good front of stalls seats to get the full impact of Greig’s great performance here. And just finally, it was lovely to finally be able to answer the question ‘can one look a Whinger directly in the eye and survive?’, their pap shots had led to me to suspect some kind of Medusa-like powers!