Aug 8 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆    Heartfelt

Paradise in Augustines (Venue 152): Sat 5 – Sat 12 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Dogfight, from Thistle N’ Thorn at Paradise in Augustines for the Fringe’s first week, is a melodic and cleverly staged production.

The 2012 musical (songs by Pasek & Paul, book by Peter Duchan) is based on a 1991 film directed by Nancy Savoca and starring River Phoenix. Eddie (Scott Binnie), a young enlistee in the US Marines, meets Rose (Jessica Faith Cooper, who shares the role with Riodhna Walsh), a shy and awkward diner employee.

Eddie invites Rose to a party, but with an ulterior motive; the Marine who brings the ‘ugliest date’ stands to win money from his peers. He soon starts to think better of it, but (unsurprisingly) Rose is far from impressed when she finds out what is going on.

Dogfight Company. Pic Thistle N’Thorn

The story is set in the early 60s, when American involvement in Vietnam begins to escalate; you can probably hazard a guess as to what might happen later. The storyline is less repulsive than a synopsis makes it sound; the musical’s writers are clearly far more interested in the love-story element than any war.

The plot is somewhat lopsided, however, with the last quarter unsatisfactory and somewhat confusing, something that is not helped by running the whole thing straight through with no interval.

If it does not all ring true it is not the fault of the cast, even if some do not necessarily convince as would-be squaddies. Some production choices do not help, however. The usual painfully unrealistic deployment of fake cigarettes abounds from performers who have obviously never been around smokers; the perennial issue of real food on stage being paradoxically less convincing than imaginary food also rears its head.

The excellent five-piece band – Emma Cairns, Evie Alberti, Nathaniel Haas and Ciaran Hill under MD Josh Wood – are welcome, but there are real sound issues. More contemplative numbers fare well, and chorus numbers have sufficient power, but the lyrics of louder or faster songs are often barely audible.

much to recommend

That said, there is much to recommend in the performances, not least in Binnie’s journey from self-obsessed to more sensitive. His singing is particularly emotional and his acting thoroughly convincing. His scenes with Cooper are the heartbeat of the piece; she is extremely impressive, with melody and emotion in her voice.

Rowan Strachan and Seumas Cross (who alternates with Charlie Corliss) have just the right combination of fresh-faced innocence and incipient cynicism as Eddie’s Marine buddies Boland and Bernstein.

Kirsty Allan shines as Marcy, who is hired by Boland to win the jackpot at the dance. Her featured number is superb, and it is a shame that she does not have more to do; the same could be said of Justine House’s lounge singer or Helen Smith as Rose’s mother.

Indeed, the talented female ensemble (Kayleigh MacDonald, Heather Gore, Aoife Sutton, Bo Gourlay, Amy McVeigh) are often reduced to little more than walk-ons; the story may deal with toxic misogyny and its effects, but some of the female characters could benefit from a little more agency.

pacy staging

The other soldiers – Tom Sørensen, Sam Eastop and Jamie Crozier – benefit from their increased involvement in the more uptempo numbers, and seize the opportunity.

Director Mairi Cross gets most things right, with the staging being pacy. Scene changes are handled notably well, and props (with the exceptions of those cigarettes, and in the unconvincing restaurant scene) are deployed economically and effectively.

What appears to be a scenario about hard-bitten exploiters turns out to be something much sweeter (albeit still with a hard edge) and is all the more enjoyable as a result.

Running time: One hour 40 minutes (no interval)
Paradise in Augustines (The Sanctuary), 41 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EL (Venue 152)
Saturday 5 – Saturday 12 August 2023
Daily at 5.30 pm
Tickets and details Book here

Thistle N’Thorn links

Facebook: @ThistleNThornProductions
Instagram: @thistlenthornpr



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