Review: The Dog Walker
Image: Jermyn Street Theatre
Victoria Yeates - Keri
Andrew Dennis - Doakes
“I am the most emotionally responsive dog walker in the district.
I scored 4.8 on the City Empathy Test.”
As a professional dog walker, you meet all sorts of people, and Herbert has met more than his fair share.
But he's never come across anyone quite like Keri, alone in her flat surrounded by empty ouzo bottles.
And where exactly is she keeping her Pekingese dog?
Paul Minx's story of finding connection in the big city is as moving as it is funny, proving that hope springs in the most unlikely situations.
Paul Minx's plays include The Long Road South (King's Head Theatre with Imogen Stubbs and Michael Brandon), Walking on Water (White Bear Theatre with Susannah York), and See How Beautiful I Am (Bush Theatre).
Harry Burton's West End shows include Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter, The Leisure Society, I Found My Horn, and Barking in Essex.
He directed the acclaimed documentary Working with Pinter for Channel 4.
Put two radically different characters in a room together and you should be able to come up with surprising possibilities for inventive and hilarious comedy.
Sadly, none of the ingredients offered here came close to realising that potential and I found myself quickly drifting into the rare state of frustrated boredom.
My neighbour seemed to be fighting the same battle needing to resort to regular swigs of water to prevent his drowsy head falling onto his chest and drifting off to the Land of Nod completely.
The rest of the packed audience were split in the ratio of about 90% to 10%.
The larger portion seemed to be in a state of comatose unresponsiveness for almost the duration - apart from an odd polite chuckle or two.
The other 10% - possibly opening night supporters of the cast and creatives and all sitting in one corner of the venue - did find amusement at times.
It felt like we'd been subjected to a weird kind of segregation - which we might need to get used to if COVID-19 really takes hold.
In fact, the option of facing total isolation might just be preferable to watching this play again, at least in its current state.
Victoria Yeates (left) and Andrew Dennis - Photo by Robert Workman
Victoria Yeates's Keri is a woman who never goes out of her dishevelled flat, preferring to swill down ouzo all day long while writing her e-books.
She's hired the services of a dog-walking company and Andrew Dennis's Herbert Doakes duly fetches up to be greeted by Keri pretending to be ... a dog.
Keri eventually presents her pooch as a rolled-up piece of thick blanket - which left me trying to work-out whether her four-legged friend was actually deceased within the material or simply non-existent or merely defined as a blanket to get round the need for a real-life dog as a third and (possibly unpredictable) actor.
It appears that Keri has been doggedly irritating the dog-walking company for some time to the extent that she is "despised by the dog-walking community", Herbert tells us.
Herbert has a religious bent and claims to go to AA, telling us he's been sober for 17 years.
Keri similarly needs the assistance of AA as she's heading towards self-destruction through alcohol misuse.
But her need to acquire the services (or company) of dog-walkers hints at underlying issues that she is facing which (fairly predictably) surface in the fulness of time.
And Herbert has his own issues to negotiate.
We see these two people interacting in three scenes as their strange relationship develops.
Both actors do their level best with their characters, but the strangeness of the relationship is never reflected in and supported by the power of the writing, so that what happens between them just seems odd rather than comic.
Hebert sums it up pretty succinctly at one point when he says "This isn't funny".
It's always amazing just how much designers can fit into the intimate space at Jermyn Street Theatre and Isabella Van Braeckel is no exception in this regard, providing ample realism in her description of Keri's railroad apartment.
But even a neat set can't compensate for what is a yawn-inducing concoction.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Jermyn Street Theatre
Our show listing for The Dog Walker
Read our reviews' policy