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Day of the Dog
Etcetera Theatre
17th August 2015

★★★★☆

Publicity image for Day of the Dog

Photography © Blue Sparrow Theatre Company

Very few teenagers like getting out of bed in the morning. Hell, I still don't, and I can't even remember being a teenager, it was so long ago. Sometimes the stereotypes of adolescent behaviour can hide more troubling symptoms - Polly (Jeannie Dickinson) can't get up in the morning. Her mum, Karen (Gina Radford) thinks it's Polly's own doing, for staying up so late messing around on the internet. The truth is, Polly suffers from crippling night terrors. The day often isn't much better, with negative thoughts and emotions swirling around her head, and Polly doing her best to push everyone away in case they find out what's really going on. Day of the Dog is a 40-minute show about undiagnosed mental illness and the impact it can have on the sufferer and those around them.

Younger sister Harriet (Francesca Burgoyne) knows Polly is unhappy, but doesn't know why exactly, which isn't that surprising given Polly can't fully express what she's going through herself. Harriet clearly adores her big sis and tries to help by bringing Polly toast, staging a sleepover in her room, and offering to call Polly's friends to get them to help with the coursework she's panicking about. The age gap is always very obvious, with Burgoyne stomping around and swinging from playfulness and curiosity to fear and petulance incredibly quickly, not yet old enough to cope with complex emotions. The actress may be pushing it somewhat with the playing age, however Burgoyne's mannerisms really do help transcend that difficulty. A particular highlight is an upside down disagreement, which is so plausibly stupid it leads to some warm laughter. Children do say and do the funniest things.

Radford, Dickinson and Burgoyne not only star in this three-hander, they've all co-written and co-directed it. There's a tight-knit family dynamic between Karen, Polly and Harriet, and this is what makes the play so affecting - Polly's condition is making them all sad, and they're upset that they can't stop the other two from hurting. There are some scenes which are a bit heavy-handed, such as Karen's instruction to Polly to just snap out of it. Karen is so full of tenderness and love for her two children, she's very grounded and she does seem aware that Polly genuinely needs professional help she cannot provide, so it feels grating that she would make such a misstep. I could believe Karen chatting to one of her friends on the phone wishing Polly's behaviour would just change, but it doesn't feel likely she would make such an insensitive comment to her face.

This lack of subtly is probably at least in part due to the production's short length and the limitations that brings. This is however just one niggle. For the most part, it's well-written and helps raise awareness of the mental illness in the young, which is an extremely noble message. At no point does the company's intention feel artificial, or scenes shoehorned in for plot development - this is just one day in the life of an ordinary family affected by mental illness and a glimpse at what that's really like.

Day of the Dog is touching, insightful and a successful collaboration in which you can't see the joins where the three creators have come together. A powerful and worthy piece of theatre.

Day of the Dog opened on 17th August and runs until 21st August 2015 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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