Monday June 17, 2024


By Diana Simmonds
June 1 2024

dog, KXT Broadway, 24 May-8 June 2024. Photography by Clare Hawley: laneikka denne and Jack Patten

Often, pre-show warnings about a play’s content seem to be there to guard against the possible melting of snowflakes, but in this instance, perhaps not. If you think you’re likely to be ill-affected by depictions of depression, alcoholism, suicidal ideation and (involuntary btw) animal cruelty, or mental illness (contamination Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), then perhaps you should go see something less disturbing, like Macbeth or King Lear, or even Titus Andronicus. Otherwise: 18+ is recommended.

Meanwhile, this exceptional 90 minute two-hander by Shayne opens with a long, silent scene that’s both exquisite and tragic. After carefully placing and re-placing, over and over, the items they need, and stripping off in a careful sequence, Sister (laneikka denne) performs an all-consuming ritual of cleansing themselves head to foot, with a spray bottle of Dettol. Their inner torment is in stark contrast to the striking beauty of the outer body, which gleams (in Frankie Clarke’s clever lighting) like alabaster – and evokes 19th century classical nudes – such as Ingres’ “La Baigneuse”. The juxtaposition is at once mesmerisingly lovely and heart-rending, as she helplessly performs the necessary practices, and the audience is spellbound and silent throughout.


In dramatic contrast is the storm of disastrous energy and extravagant broken heart as Brother (Jack Patten) arrives home with a fresh six pack for the esky. As each bottle is upended it’s inevitable that he will career ever further off the rails. He makes drunk calls to his ex-girlfriend, who quite wisely would have left; he abuses his wreck of a motorbike for refusing to start, and he mesmerises the horrified viewer with the rubber-limbed physicality of the unconsciously inebriated. He rarely stops swigging on a beer bottle and is a volcano of barely contained emotion. He’s a lout and a lair yet also, somehow, despite the raging despair, is also sweetly vulnerable. In his expressive pent up presence it’s as if Heath Ledger is reborn.

As director of the production and two exceptional actors, Kim Hardwick has seized upon and imposed the uncommon if scary luxury of the play’s silences. The effect is to emphasise the sparse dialogue and subtexts that continually bubble up and overflow in this bold play. The silences also create an almost imperceptible rhythm of emotional repression and internalised sadness between Brother and Sister. These depths are ever more sharply delineated in the incongruous ordinariness of the scungy yard and back deck of their house. (Ruby Jenkins’ closely detailed set makes unusually good use of the always tricky traverse stage with it two banks of seating along its long sides.)


Crucial to the atmosphere and overall success of the production is the sound design by Aisling Bermingham. It ranges across pulsating electronics to hypnotic cricket trillings, all subtly integrated behind the everyday struggles of two people overlooked and abandoned by society. Their scramble for meaning and a place in the sun is poignant, frightening too because the audience is forced in many moments to recognise the indifference – disdain even – in the way most of us behave towards such people as Brother and Sister. And according to the playwright, that’s their point. Yet although the writer may have a strong purpose in depicting the often unseen misery of OCD and the damage to young men of the Australian way of booze, the fact is that dog stands on its own feet as a human drama.

Shayne’s talent for dialogue is unmistakable and the production and performances make the very most of it. dog is not for everyone, but then, what is, and why should it be? The performances are memorable and we can expect to be saying of Jack Patten – oh yes, we saw him when… dog is also tough and the delicate might be wise to take note of the warnings, but meanwhile – I’m recommending without reservation.



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