Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Little Dog Laughed at The Garrick


I'm having a good month of theatre-going, continuing last night with this marvellously clever satire on Hollywood. The Little Dog Laughed has a super, over-the-top central role (played by Tamsin Grieg), an actor's manager who knows how to manipulate the game to her best advantage, irrespective of the toes that get stamped on. This meta-Machiavelli of the movie industry wanders in and out of the play proper, a bittersweet sexual comedy à tres, played by Rupert Friend, Gemma Arterton and Harry Lloyd.

The play is a twisty-turny look at the hypocrisy of Hollywood's attitude to the homosexual actor, played out in a fluid situation which bears more than a passing resemblance to the situation of Michael Cunningham's A Home At The End Of The World. The sex is up front and funny, treated in a post-postmodern fashion, i.e. indecorously and without dwelling on the clear irony of any given liaison. Consequently the play trails the churned earth of contradictions the pain of which is masked with Diane/Grieg's theatrical campery.

Indeed two things stood out for me from last night's performance. Firstly, as critics have reasonably asserted, for all that the cast is very good, when Grieg is not on the stage one is just itching for her to return. Secondly, Gemma Arterton's turn as Emily is quietly spectacular. By the simple but technically highly taxing conceit of having the outwardly flightly Emily perpetually creeping over the edge of tears the play acquires a weight which turns its ironic denoument into tragedy. Arterton's control of this is astonishing, consistently well-managed and twists the knife so hard that I left weighed down by the play's (probably unintentional) cynicism.

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