DAY OF THE DOG, Etcetera Theatre - Camden Fringe Review

The thing about mental illness or rather depression, is it’s a bit like alcoholism. People may grumble about drunken behaviour, but seldom take long-term action. However, once you give it a name/label and an official diagnosis, then you have no choice but to acknowledge and deal with it. Also, the stigma of such a thing sticks, so help is seldom sought unless it’s a last resort.

Blue Sparrow Theatre’s Company’s Day of the Dog addresses depression during adolescence, when the ‘bad things’ of life can feel heightened and communication between peers, parents and family can be fraught at the best of times. The play begins with Polly (Jeannie Dickinson) lying wide awake in bed waiting for the alarm of her phone to go off. The alarm rings, but she makes no effort to get up. Polly’s younger sister Harriet (Francesca Burgoyne) and mother Karen (Gina Radford) do their best to encourage her to get up, but have to leave eventually for fear of being late for school. The evening brings stern words from Karen before she’s due to leave the house again. Trying to be understanding, Karen’s effort to encourage Polly to talk are in vain, but changing tact and being stern with Polly yields the same results. A breakthrough of sorts does take place later from the most unlikely source...

Day of the Dog is a ‘small’ play, but that is why it works so well. This is no One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or Girl, Interrupted, but a family trying to cope when one of its members can’t articulate why physically and mentally they’re not 100%.

It’s a credit to Blue Sparrow that their research of minutiae of depression is so accurately realised. Anyone who’s seen Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (one of the best films about depression to date) knows the clinically depressed suffer from lack of energy and appetite, and that insomnia too is far from rare. The exhaustion and weariness on Dickinson’s face as she’s been asked for the umpteenth time about her state of mind is priceless – to some degree wanting to talk, but not knowing how to articulate her troubled emotions. As a counterpoint, Burgoyne’s energetic performance as Harriet beautifully captures the ambivalent sibling relationship: one minute polar opposites, repellent to each other and under the right circumstances, one of the strongest bonds possible.

If you work in the Camden area and can go on a late lunch, do treat yourself to this thought-provoking, succinct and accessible play.

© Michael Davis 2015

Day of the Dog runs at Etcetera Theatre until 21st August 2015 (2pm).

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