Review: The Dog, The Night And The Knife, Arcola Theatre

“Is that the…correct procedure”

If you like your plays with a beginning, a middle, an end and an easily definable narrative arc, then the work of German playwright Marius con Mayenburg is probably not for you. If however, you don’t mind a play that is utterly unafraid of inhabiting an obscure world and has no interest in providing any kind of traditional dramatic resolution, then the UK premiere of his 2008 play translated here by Maja Zade as The Dog, The Night And The Knife could well be up your straße.

Directed by Oliver Dawe, it is a brilliantly disconcerting piece of theatre that seems destined to be labelled “darkly comic” and/or “knotty” as the go-to phrases for this kind of work And it is work. Between them, Dawe and von Mayenburg cultivate an atmosphere of remarkable strangeness as a man, named simply M, wakes up in a world where much has changed. Normal rules of behaviour no longer apply and so he, and us the audience, needs to adapt to work out just what the hell is going on.

And sure enough, we never really get there. Michael Edwards’ everyman is a magnetic central figure, frighteningly denuded of all personal details aside from the fact that he just ate mussels, with friends, and reduced to just acting instinctively to defend himself against the strangeness all around. That he does viscerally as the survival spirit leads to a kill or be killed approach, an almost computer game-like casualness to the violence, as he quickly wields his knife to dispatch policemen, nurses, strangers, anyone and everyone.

Beth Park and Stephen Ventura nail this fast-revolving array of characters excellently, a manic glee in their eyes as they switch from one t’other along with the clinical edges of Louie Whitemore’s set design offers a potential route into where the twists and turns of this play could be situated but there’s more pleasure in finding one’s own way though, engaging in this intellectual and imaginative landscape in a way that British-written theatre rarely demands of us.

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 18th October

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