Review: The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People

4 star rating
A poignant, well-observed and tightly-focused study of domestic abuse that offers a resonant glimpse into the disintegration of a marriage with ultimately devastating consequences.
The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People at Old Red Lion Theatre

Image: Old Red Lion Theatre



Closes here: Saturday 1 February 2020

Author:
Rosalind Blessed

Director:
Caroline Devlin

Cast:

Duncan Wilkins

Rosalind Blessed


Synopsis


"The play of the year for me was The Delight of Dogs and the Problems of People.


Funny, moving, and ridiculously well acted.


In an orderly world it would run for 100 years.


Rosalind Blessed and Duncan Wilkins will break your heart whilst making you think, which is the hallmark of great drama." (Andrew O'Hagan, New York Times Magazine)


Following the journey of a relationship as it disintegrates.


The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People by Rosalind Blessed asks what causes a mind to unravel and why are we so slow to recognise the dangers lurking beneath our very roof.


This is not a story of monster and victim - how much easier would life be if things were so simple.


How can you know an abuser when they don't know themselves?


While our love for another human can so often be complicated and destructive, the simple, pure love of a dog for a human can shine a redemptive light in the darkest moment.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Thursday 9 January 2020
Review star rating image

This production is one of two plays written by Rosalind Blessed which are running in rep throughout January at Islington's Old Red Lion Theatre.


The other play in the pairing is called Lullabies for the Lost - an ensemble piece in which eight characters reveal their personal stories.


The connection between the two plays lies in the arena of mental health, though there's wide-ranging diversity in terms of the specifics conveyed, reflecting the author's own struggles.


Dogs also provide a link between these two pieces, in the guise of offering 'non-judgemental love' for those plagued by mental health issues.


However, The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People isn't so much about the therapeutic benefits of sharing one's home with a four-legged friend (or two) but rather focuses on the disintegration of the marital relationship between Robin (Rosalind Blessed) and James (played by Duncan Wilkins).


Now I'm sure that this won't be the last play we're going to see about the break-down of a marriage or long-term relationship since the subject offers ample material in spades across a spectrum of considerations.


Rosalind Blessed's writing, though, cleverly finds its power and uniqueness in opting to describe a situation that, at least at first sight, is seemingly ordinary rather than brutally exceptional - though things do take a decided turn for the worse as the story unfolds.


James has adopted the role of chuckling chef at the start of this piece as he prepares a surprise celebratory meal for the 5th anniversary of his marriage to Robin.

Cast of The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People at the Old Red Lion Theatre

Rosalind Blessed and Duncan Wilkins - photo courtesy Natalie Wells


From his initial activities you'd think he might be up for an award of husband of the year.


And there's some reinforcement of that perspective as we absorb flashbacks of previous times in their lives together, where we certainly find a couple who once experienced considerable happiness in each other's company.


But James's culinary endeavours are oddly out of place since the couple have actually been separated for some time.


His problem is that he can't accept that his wife no longer wishes to be with him and his attitude towards her oscillates between love and hate, resulting in abuse.


Of Rosalind Blessed's two pieces in this season of her work, The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People turns out to be the better of the two, largely because it's more tightly focused.


It's also significantly shorter and thus easier to digest and, moreover, adopts an approach that will send unpleasant, resonant shivers down the spines of many as they recognise elements from their own dire experiences of relationship breakdowns.


There are absorbing and convincing performances from both Rosalind Blessed and Duncan Wilkins who hold our attention throughout and suitably ramp-up the tension in the latter moments to provide the unnerving and poigant ending of a well-observed piece.


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