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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Gundog
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs   January-March 2018

This is the sort of play in which nothing happens, and very slowly. 

It is, at least in part, a vision of characters enduring under dreary conditions, and even at just one hour and forty-five minutes it is likely to test the audience's endurance. 

New playwright Simon Longman pictures two sisters working a barely marginal sheep farm. They're not alone, but might as well be. 

The family includes their never-onstage father, forever wandering the fields lost in mourning for his wife; grandfather merrily sinking into senile dementia, brother who repeatedly flees the farm in search of anything else and repeatedly returns after not finding it; and an immigrant labourer happy to work without pay just to be somewhere. 

In a string of very short scenes more than a decade passes, and it is central to Longman's vision that nothing really changes. 

Two characters die, two leave (one of them repeatedly returning), and a dying dog lies gasping on the ground for at least two years before being put out of its misery, but the sisters slog on, neither ageing, learning anything or being affected by life in any visible way. 

At various times there is talk of the blessing or burden of silence, the value of stillness in a moving-too-fast world, the need for courage, the circle of life, and dead sheep. It is not that Longman's play isn't about anything, but that he seems to change his mind from scene to scene what it's about. 

Director Vicky Featherstone understands that the play is about stasis, and has clearly chosen to direct it without any rhythm, variation or forward impetus. It's a courageous gamble, but one she loses, as it makes sitting through the play that much more of a slog.

It is part of the playwright's concept that the most coherent and insightful comment on their lives should come from the dotty grandfather, and actor Alan Williams not only delivers the moment movingly, but convinces us that this hitherto comic character would be capable of such a flash of lucidity. 

But Ria Zmitrowicz and Rochenda Sandall as the sisters, Alex Austin as the brother and Alec Secareanu as the worker must struggle to piece together some reality out of characters who never grow, change or even seem to react to their own lives. 

Gundog is almost exactly one-half as long as Long Day's Journey Into Night, which I saw on the preceding evening. But it feels longer.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Gundog - Royal Court Theatre 2018  
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