Dead Dad Dog

Nov 3 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Welcome revival

Traverse: Wed 1 – Sat 4 Nov 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

John McKay’s 1988 hit comedy Dead Dad Dog returns to the Traverse threatening to be a period piece, but turns out to have a great deal still to say – and is still pretty funny.

First seen at the old Traverse at the West Bow, the play has been revived by Stories Untold Productions in association with Finborough Theatre, London. When it was first staged, McKay was best known as a member of the comedy troupe the Merry Mac Fun Co, but has since gone on to a career as a television and film director, writer and producer.

Liam Brennan and Angus Miller in Dead Dad Dog. Pic: Lidia Crisafulli

Originally, this was to have been part of a double bill with a new sequel set in the present day called Sunny Boy, but cast illness put a stop to this.

While the second play would have made this revival more logical, the 1988 original remains an intriguing piece. Alexander ‘Eck’ Dundee (Angus Miller), a 24-year-old determined not to follow his contemporaries down to London in search of opportunities (and money) in the media, has an important interview with BBC Scotland and an equally important date with Roseanne. Unfortunately, the unexpected arrival of his father Willie (Liam Brennan) threatens to derail proceedings.

Willie’s presence is made more complicated by the fact that he has been dead for twelve years. It’s not just Eck who is aware of Willie – everyone else can see him too. And if the two men are more than a few feet apart, it causes Eck physical pain.

self-confident swagger

The episodic nature of what follows, as Eck’s plans for the day are scuppered, makes it easy to see how the play became a (short-lived) Channel 4 sitcom. There is still considerable humour in the play; its self-confident swagger, and Poor Theatre-derived aesthetic, which marked it out as a departure in the 80s, still have appeal.

Some references will undoubtedly mystify any younger attendees, such as the lament for the disappearance of Patrick Thomsons or the puzzlement at broccoli and meat-free meals. The differences between 70s fashion – wide of check and wider of trouser – and the pastel, sleeves-rolled-up 80s would have been stark forty years ago but mean little now.

Liam Brennan and Angus Miller in Dead Dad Dog. Pic: Lidia Crisafulli

Attempts at anchoring this production in its original era do not always quite come off, either – it is stated directly that this is 1985, but the music used in the club scene does not bear this out.

The staging, however, is confident and effective, with Alex Marker’s minimalist set (a collage and one chair), Rachel Sampley’s lighting and Julian Starr’s sound design working beautifully. There is a gloriously kinetic feel to the direction of Liz Carruthers, with the pacing smoothing over the gaps between scenes and making full use of the talents of Miller and Brennan.

cultural cringe

Miller has a puppyish charm that works particularly well when called upon to play the younger Eck, while Brennan’s timing and comic nous are top class. What is even more impressive is how well they work as a double act – the family relationship, with all its resentments and attachments, is instantly believable. This helps with potentially jarring shifts from comedy to more emotional moments.

Despite some content coming across unavoidably as irrelevant in 2023, the depiction of the Caledonian cultural cringe is still far more relevant than anyone would have hoped in the 80s – as is the portrayal of Scottish masculinity. This, along with the assured staging and the quality of the performances, means that what could just have been a curiosity instead has considerable urgency.

Running time: One hour and 5 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Wednesday 1 – Saturday 4 November 2023
Daily at 7.30 pm
Details and tickets: Book here.

Angus Miller and Liam Brennan in Dead Dad Dog. Pic: Lidia Crisafulli


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