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Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney
April 15, 2017
When The Dog/The Cat premiered in Belvoir’s Downstairs Theatre in 2015, it sold out in next to no time, delighting audiences so much that four extension weeks were added.
Benedict Hardie and Xavier Samuel in the 2015 production of The Cat. Photograph @ Brett Boardman
Now, the double bill of romantic comedies by Brendan Cowell and Lally Katz has a return season in the larger Upstairs Theatre and already an extension week has been added due to demand. Inevitably, the production doesn’t have quite the same intimate feel as in the smaller venue, but happily it’s still a delightful piece of theatre with oodles of charm.
The evening begins with Cowell’s The Dog, set in an inner-city park where three 30-somethings regularly walk their dogs. The scruffy, downcast Ben (Xavier Samuel) meets smart university lecturer Miracle Malone (Sheridan Harbridge) when they are out walking their respective pooches, Jerry (named after Jerry Seinfeld) and Lola. But Miracle, it transpires, already knows Jerry, having met his co-owner Marcus (Benedict Hardie), Ben’s flat-mate. Once best mates, the two men have had a falling out and are no longer talking.
They’re a classic odd couple. Where Ben has become a depressed slacker – his marriage is over and his screenplay has just been rejected – Marcus is a dorky, hipster try-hard who has just designed a new digital app that has the potential to go viral. Both fall for Miracle and vie for her attention.
Sheridan Harbridge and Benedict Hardie in rehearsals for the current production of The Dog. Photograph © Brett Boardman
In Katz’s The Cat, the marriage of Albert (Hardie) and Alex (Harbridge) is over and they are in the final stages of divvying up the household items. But after arguing about who gets the cat (Samuel) they decide to share custody of the feline, who they hand over each week in the park. Without wanting to give too much away, the cat is less than happy with the arrangement.
Both plays are beautifully written and zing with humour, while bearing the trademark of their respective authors. Cowell offers a sharp, witty analysis of mateship and the masculine mindset, while poking fun at everything from craft beer to Tinder and hipsters. Katz’s narrative is more whimsical, taking a quirky, surreal turn. Though different in style, they share similar concerns and the writers have added cute little references to link them. Both pieces are light as a soufflé but there’s a real ring of truth to the relationships, and we care about all the characters, including the cat.
Originally directed and designed by Ralph Myers, who set the production in a black box, Anthea Williams has directed the current revival, which retains the stark setting but with the addition of a park bench and a sofa. And that’s all it needs. With costumes by Mel Page, lighting by Damien Cooper and sound by Stefan Gregory it’s a simply staged but nifty little production.
The Dog took a little time to find its groove on opening night but once it got going it was a joy, and The Cat was delicious from go to whoa. The three actors are all terrific. Reprising the roles of Marcus and Albert, Hardie is very funny as the over-eager, geeky Marcus and also turns in a hilarious tongue-in-cheek cameo as Alex’s new lover, capoeira teacher Jeff, while creating a distinctively different character as the brittle, lovelorn Albert.
Xavier Samuel in The Cat in 2015. Photograph © Brett Boardman
Also returning to the show, Samuel has Ben down to a tee, while turning in a brilliantly comic, larger-than-life performance as the disenchanted cat. Harbridge, who is new to the production, gives a warmly funny, endearing performance as Miracle and Alex, and is a hoot as Albert's rather gauche, vocal girlfriend Sophie.
The two one-act comedies run around 40 minutes each – which is just the right length. They sit well together, they’re programmed in the right order, they’re beautifully performed, they’re full of laughs yet have something to say, and together make for a very sweet double bill, which is sealed with a kiss. What’s not to love?
The Dog/The Cat is at Belvoir St Theatre until May 7