Review – The Suicidal Tendencies Of Sheep And A Dog Called The Hoff

August 11, 2013 | By More

✭✭✩✩✩   Promising debut

The Suicidal Tendencies Of Sheep And A Dog Called The Hoff. © Just Like The Precipitation

The Suicidal Tendencies Of Sheep And A Dog Called The Hoff. © Just Like The Precipitation

theSpace on North Bridge (Venue 36)
Fri 2 – Sat 24 August
Review by Hugh Simpson

New company Just Like The Precipitation’s first ever-production, the unwieldy-sounding The Suicidal Tendencies Of Sheep And A Dog Called The Hoff by Sarah Hailstones, is a promising and intriguing play at The Space On North Bridge.

That impenetrable title disguises what is a surprisingly old-fashioned piece, as four young men become trapped in a seedy hotel room. Declan has invited his three oldest friends Alistair, JJ and Robbie to Edinburgh for what turns out to be his stag weekend, as he announces that he has become engaged.

Tempers become frayed as first the door handle falls off, trapping them inside, then one of the others trumps Declan’s announcement with some devastating news of his own.

The obvious problem with the ‘locked room’ situation has to be addressed. The first objection, that they would simply use their mobiles to call out, is elegantly resolved, but this is not enough. Surely Health and Safety regulations would have something to say about a tenth floor hotel room with no windows, no phone and a door which four fit young men in their twenties cannot possibly shift?

There should have been another way to create a reason why the four of them become stuck in the room. However, none of this detracts from much of what is on show. Hailstones’ ear for dialogue is showcased in some believable sparring between the characters, allied to some deftly handled humour of the blackest kind and some excellent flourishes. We even get an explanation of the title.

Hailstones manages to say some interesting things about friendship, mortality, and the way men communicate (or fail to), without ever being obvious or preachy. The way the play shifts seamlessly between antagonism, empathy and the dreaded ‘banter’ is evidence of an interesting talent. Director Roy Edgington also makes good use of the set and adds a variety of naturalistic movement.

Considerable natural ability when it comes to swearing

The young cast deliver promising performances. There is a degree of hesitancy early on, where the gaps between speeches can be stagily artificial, but the rhythm improves as the performance goes on. John Lake (Declan) needs to work on his physical presence but is entirely believable. Oliver Giggins is convincingly self-obsessed as JJ, if perhaps not nasty enough, while Chris MacFarlane (Alistair) makes excellent use of his towering stature to both comic and emotional effect. He perhaps needs to ensure, however, that he does not overuse his character’s nod of the head in reaction to others’ speeches. Martin Hammond (Robbie) has exquisite comic timing, allied to considerable natural ability when it comes to swearing.

It is this swearing which points up the main problem in the performances – they are just too nice to each other. There are some definite moments of antagonism in the script, which are not fully explored by the cast. This means that the moments when arguments threaten to spill over into violence carry correspondingly little threat. With more aggression in the performances, the moments of reconciliation and half-hearted emotion would also have more weight.

One aspect of the performances that is entirely successful is the way that they all manage to convince as men approaching 30, already lamenting the loss of their ambitions, despite looking extremely fresh-faced themselves.

That gimmicky title can be excused, as a new company needs all the help it can get in being noticed at the Fringe. However, the potential shown here should mean that people will be looking out for the next play by Sarah Hailstones, whatever its name.

Running time 45 mins
Run ends Sat 24 August 2013
Daily (not Sun) 4.05pm.
Venue 36, theSpace on North Bridge, North Bridge, EH1 1SD
Tickets from: www.edfringe.com

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