Review: The Dog the Knight and the Knife

The latest product of the USU’s Bright Ideas program is pretty bloody good.

‘M’ doesn’t know how he got here. He remembers eating mussels with some friends just before. Now he’s standing on a dimly lit, foreign street corner, with a bloodthirsty dogman his only hope of finding his way home.

This is how the absurdist three-hander The Dog, The Night and The Knife opens, plunging the audience into M’s desperate attempts to make sense of circumstances that are increasingly baffling. Staged by The Other Theatre at the cosy M2 gallery, this Australian premiere sees Tom Crotty, Samantha Lambert and Thomas G Burt deliver compelling performances under Eugene Lynch’s competent direction.

Acclaimed German playwright Marius von Mayenburg’s 2008 ‘thriller’ paints a surreal and sinister vision of wolves encroaching on urban areas, hospitals filled with sand, and a hungry predator lurking around every corner. As M becomes resigned to the necessity of murder to avoid being butchered himself, so too does the audience. who comes to understand that in this world, one must kill or be killed (and eaten).

Crotty is engaging and endearing as the hapless outsider ‘M’, garnering sympathy as his sanity is contested by those preying upon him. Crotty’s nuanced performance includes moments of strong comic timing alongside those of terror, allowing audiences to delight in the frequently ridiculous scenes played out in front of them.

Lambert and Burt each transition skilfully between several different characters, presenting us with feuding family members, mysterious medical staff, and various other suspect figures. Lambert successfully inspires anxiety with her frantic appearances as ‘Little Sister’, and her chemistry with Crotty is convincing. Burt delivers the most memorable performance of the night at the pointy end of the play, where the brutish ‘Dog’ vividly encapsulates the intoxicating effect of power.

Effective make up design by Annabel Cameron dehumanises Lambert and Burt in their various roles, giving them the hollow cheeks and wild eyes you would expect of the chronically hungry. Kailesh Reitmans’ clever, non-intrusive sound design deserves special mention, helping to evoke the threatening conditions that the sparse set cannot.

The clinical, fluorescent, white box gallery space provides the necessary blank canvas to host the settings of street, prison and hospital. However, with minimal use of props or lighting, more variation in terms of the actors’ physicality could have brought greater dynamism to the stage.

In contrast to the interminable night it depicts, the show runs at about an hour only. A slower pace at select moments would also have provided the audience with the opportunity to absorb more of the poetry of von Mayenburg’s rich and captivating text.

Director Lynch is to be commended for a bold choice of play that ultimately offers hard truths about an unkind world. Worthy of the USU Bright Ideas grant it received, this is a thought provoking, albeit pared back, production.

The Dog the Knife and the Knight is showing from the 28th of March until the 31st of March at M2 Gallery.