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Etcetra Theatre (part of Camden Fringe)            

Dog/Actor
4.0Reviewer's rating

Stephen Smith is an extraordinary physical actor. The silent first five minutes of Dog (one of two short one-man pieces that make up the whole) are a tour de force of mime.  Smith throws himself around the stage dragged hither and yon by an invisible dog that the audience can absolutely see at all times, and his exertion and commitment are incredible.

The piece then settles into a monologue that offers an insight into the increasingly diminishing life of a football hooligan. First presented in 1993 the garb smith wore was more reminiscent of the uniform of the late 1970s/early 80s. Though in Camden, where our scene unfolded, someone dressed as such at that time was just as likely to be part of the anti-racist two-tone movement.

By 1993 the hooliganism was on the wane and so was the culture that would have buoyed the lead character of Dog. This is reflected in the hinted loneliness of the protagonist as he clings to his dog and his small and narrowing life. There is pathos even in this profoundly unloveable character and Smith does well to keep us from turning from him in disgust but connected in what glimpses we see of his humanity.

In Actor we are faced with a very differently unlovable archetype. A bitter failing actor moving further and further from success even as he watches his friends rise around him. His father’s disappointment and his mother’s eternal optimism both drive him on – one in fury the other in shame. Smith’s motif of constant movement as if on a treadmill exemplified well the grind of the actor’s life (no wonder he’s set up his own company to produce shows as he clearly makes the audition process look hideous, lifeless, humanity-free hellscape.

The lead of Actor offers no self-reflection on his failures, but plenty of clues are offered in both text and performance. In the authorial voice of the piece we see how damaged the man is by both the size and fragility of his ego and how much uncaring damage he also does to all of those in his life. All of which again is done through story development, subtle hints, and an increasingly defeated body language.

Dog/Actor is an interesting piece. It works in terms of looking at two very disparate characters that epitomise an unfashionable aspect of masculinity and as such explore its disappointments. It is a perfect showcase for an actor as versatile and talented as Smith whose energy never wanes and who never loses the attention of the audience. Dog/Actor is as sharp as it is short and in its ability to both shock but also sympathise with the shocking it is a highly illuminating hour of theatre

  • One Man Show
  • Written by Steven Berkoff
  • Directed  and performed by Stephen Smith
  • Etcetra Theatre (part of Camden Fringe)            
  • Until: 06/08/2022 (then at Greenside Infirmary Street, Edinburgh 15-20 August)
  • Running time: 50 minutes

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