The Theatreguide.London Review
The Little Dog Laughed
Garrick Theatre January-April 2010
Had this new American comedy been written forty or fifty years ago, it might have seemed cutting-edge and even shocking. As a play that first appeared Off-Broadway four years ago, it can't help feeling tired, empty and even a bit distasteful.
Playwright Douglas Carter Beane imagines a middling film actor offered a star-making role, but the character is homosexual.
The previously closeted actor has improbably fallen in love with a rent boy (and,incidentally, isn't that a British and not American term?) and wants to come out, much to the horror of his agent, who asserts that the public will accept a gay character only if they're convinced the actor is straight (unless he's British and knighted - and that's one of the better jokes on offer).
The bulk of the play deals with the agent's damage control, trying to break up the sweet little romance while keeping any question of her client's manliness from leaking out.
Well, perhaps that is still as much of a problem in Hollywood as it was in the 1950s, when Rock Hudson was hurriedly and briefly married off to an unsuspecting studio secretary.
But it feels very old and irrelevant, and Beane hasn't succeeded in dispelling the sense that this is something found in a time capsule rather than a view, however satiric, of the current world.
It doesn't help that the play isn't really very good, either as satire or romantic comedy. I didn't believe in any of the characters, behaviours or plot twists for a second.
That in itself needn't be disastrous - who 'believes' The Importance Of Being Earnest? But it is a problem when we're meant to believe in and care about the two guys and the whore's girl friend (Don't ask), and when there isn't anything remotely like Wilde's wit and style to carry us along.
Beane's humour is built on wisecracks and zingers, virtually all of them delivered by the acerbic female agent, and most of them fall flat, with a decent joke appearing only every fifteen minutes or so.
There is, however, a reason to see The Little Dog Laughed, and that is Tamsin Greig as the agent.
As an object lesson in how a brilliant comic actress can make C-grade material seem almost good and do full justice to the occasional legitimate zinger, Greig is a delight to behold.
As directed by Jamie Lloyd, she employs every trick in her impressive arsenal - the archly raised eyebrow, the perfectly timed double-take, the artful pause just before or just after a punchline, even blatant and irresistible flirting with the audience - to make her parts of the play actually seem well-written, and the energy level drops precariously whenever she's offstage.
It is a performance to savour, even as you sit there wishing she had better material to work with.
The rest of the cast - Rupert Friend (actor), Harry Lloyd (whore), Gemma Arterton (girlfriend and unlikely solution to the problem) work admirably and industriously to make the most out of what they've been given, which isn't much.
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