1 October 2014

The Dog, The Night and The Knife at the Arcola Theatre was wonderfully strange

I like strange plays and The Dog, The Night and The Knife was certainly that.

It's strangeness would probably have been enough to entice me to go to see it and as it was on at the Arcola, probably my favourite theatre, I just had to see it.

The biggest challenge was finding the time to fit in with so much good stuff on at the time. Once the dust on my cultural plans had settled this was the first of twelve performances that I saw in nineteen days.

The Arcola is a nice walk away from my London office, just under an hour, and as the weather was nice that is what I did. I had buses and the tube on stand-by in case it rained.

I had plenty of time to eat before the show so I went back to the Farr's School of Dancing (that's a pub) where I had been on my last visit to Dalston. I ordered a pint then asked for the menu only to discover that they had stopped doing food a couple of months earlier. That was a shame as the atmosphere in the pub was nice, much like that at the theatre, and the beer was rather good too.

I quaffed my ale quickly and headed across the road to Dalston Square and went to Cafe Route, where I had also been before. I was planning on pub grub but I could put up with posh food and I had something rather fresh and lovely. And a local beer too.

The play did not start until 8pm so I had a leisurely time over my meal and drink before making the short walk across the road to the theatre bar and a bottle of red beer. I was heading downstairs to Studio 2 and as that is a small intimate space I was not worried about fighting for the best seat.

Until it came close to the time for the play to start when I headed downstairs and found myself first in the queue. Actually I was the queue and I was in and seated before the other people, less desperate than myself, trooped in.

MY keenness got me my usual seat in the front row just to the left of the central aisle.

There before me on an otherwise bare stage was one of the characters sitting quietly in a wheelchair. I considered this to be pre-performance time and so I took the usual "this is the view from my seat" with him in it.

He was wheeled off by an older man and a young woman and they all disappeared behind a curtain that stretched across the back of the stage. Then the curtain opened in the middle and the show began making an immediate impact with the look of malevolence in the woman and older man's faces. The curtain closed again and the story began.

The younger man was wandering a city street seriously lost. He stopped to ask the older man where he was only to find himself in a strange conversation about the man's missing dog (he had just run off to join the wolves) and his hunger. The man proposed to use a large knife that he had to address his hunger only to be overpowered and killed by the younger man with the knife.

The story continued in a series of episodes where the young man met a succession of people, including a policeman, two sisters, a prison officer, a doctor and a patient, all played by the other two actors. Several of these scenes ended with the young man killing somebody with the knife and that gave me flashbacks to Count Oederland and his axe.

Those scenes were sequential and gradually a picture developed of the world that the man had found himself in. Many of the characters were related too which added substance to this little part of the world.

We met the dog and the wolves again at the end.

The experience was perplexing but most enjoyable. The strangeness of the strange world was one charm and there were many other delights in the action and the dialogue. These were teased out by three very fine actors; Michael Edwards, Beth Park and Stephen Ventura (following the unwritten theatrical rule of listing actors alphabetically). One of the delights of being at a theatre like the Arcola was being able to tell two of the actors how much I liked the show in the bar afterwards.

Thanks to my deliberate "no research" policy it was only afterwards that I discovered that the play was written by the contemporary German playwright Marius von Mayenburg and this was the UK premiere. He also wrote Eldorado and that also got its UK premier at the Arcola earlier in the year and I saw that too.

It is precisely because of plays as unusual and as interesting as The Dog, The Night and The Knife that I love the Arcola so much.

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