Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dogfight - Assembly Rooms Theatre - Review

Assembly Rooms Theatre
30th August 2017

Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Presented by Equilibrium Theatre Company
Directed by Anna Besford-Smith

Dogfight begins in 1967 as marine Eddy Birdlace returns from Vietnam. As he rides the bus back to San Francisco he remembers the night four years ago, before he and his fellow marines were shipped out  and we are transported back to that night.  He and his buddies, Bernstein and Boland are out to celebrate their last night before being posted to active duty. They are full of bravado and testosterone, America's Heroes, ready to take on the world, after just 13 weeks of training. The traditional marine celebration is the "Dogfight", each marine puts $50 in the pot to pay for a party and a competition; each one must find an ugly date to bring to the party, the marine with the ugliest date wins the prize money. Things don't quite go to plan - Boland cheats and pays a prostitute to be his date, while Eddie discovers Rose, a shy and awkward waitress singing in a diner. As the evening progresses he comes to regret the Dogfight. He spends his last night with Rose and learns that there is more to people and life than appearances.  Unfortunately once back with his marine buddies he quickly reverts to Jar Head type and forgets Rose. Coming back is not what he expected. Things have changed, soldiers returning from Vietnam are not celebrated, and he is not the American Hero he dreamed of being. And he needs to find Rose after 4 years of silence.

The stage is set very simply with a scaffold bridge, and a set of chairs. These are supplemented with a bed and tables as required which the cast move as required for each scene. The simplicity works well on a small stage in a production that has a number of quickly changing scenes. There is not much room for big dance routines but there are a couple of vignettes  as Rose sings to Eddie, and the Marines marching routine works well to provide the flavour of war. Live music is provided by a six piece band, a little loud to begin with but infinitely better than a recorded backing track.

All the cast performed well but the stars of the show were undoubtedly the two leads - Luke Henderson as Eddie, and Amber Cox as Rose Fenny. Amber's singing voice is beautiful and she does full justice to the musical numbers, and plays a very convincing strong female character. Luke portrays the many sides of Eddie well - as he struggles to come to terms with new emotions and a different view of life to what he has come to expect.

This was the first night and there were some issues with sound particularly in the first act, which is a real shame, but it was pretty much sorted by Act Two with only a couple of mic problems. There were also some first night nerves on show but these were quickly overcome and the young cast performed well, keeping the momentum going and coping with the technical issues. No doubt the problems will be ironed out for the rest of the run.

This is a great premise for a musical - it has passion of all different kinds - resentment, jealousy, fear, anger, lust and love. The story basically covers two days - one in 1963 and one in 1967. Most of the characters are fairly two dimensional but are there as the backdrop to Eddie and Rose, providing the context for their developing relationship and particularly Eddie's character. It explores very personal themes of love, the nature of friendship, honesty, loyalty, and the much wider themes of society's attitudes to war, and women. For what is ostensibly a fairly simple "boy meets girl, boy changes for the better" love story, it packs a lot in.

Dogfight plays until Saturday 2nd Sept. Curtain up is at 7.15pm and tickets are available at just £12.

Denise Sparrowhawk

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