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Fringe review - Juggling lessons with Circus Geeks: Beta Testing, Udderbelly

Fringe review: Keeping it in the family in the Dogs of War, Old Red Lion Theatre

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Richard Southgate, Maggie O'Brien and Paul Stonehouse in
Dogs of War - Pamela Raith Photography

The Herming family have moved to rural Northern Ireland from England. Son Johnny (Richard Southgate) is home from University, full of resentment at the move and just wants to play his empire building computer game. 

Mam (Maggie O'Brien) pops pills, is irascible, contrary and won't go out the house. Dad (Paul Stonehouse) is trying to keep the peace, keep the family dogs under control and keep out of the way.

But that isn't the worrying thing. Johnny can't see the dogs and Cleopatra (Melanie McHugh) has appeared and is talking to him - with a Northern Irish accent.

Tim Foley's Dogs of War is a dark comedy and one of those plays where you get to the interval not entirely sure by what is going on but utterly intrigued to see if all becomes clear. And it does and doesn't.

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Richard Southgate and Melanie McHugh in Dogs of War -
Pamela Raith Photography

On one level it is a family drama about every day struggles with things like money and fitting in but on the other it is about mental health and isolation. Foley weaves normality, squabbles and tea making with the surreal in a way that reminded me a little of Philip Ridley. Certainly it has a sharpness and grim reality that felt Ridley-esque. It is at times darkly funny and at others disturbing.

Johnny is obsessed with his family's heritage. Is this because he wants to find his roots and needs to feel connected to something bigger and greater than what he has in his immediate family. Is it simply to impress a girlfriend back at University? Or is it to do with genetics and illness? 

Are the dogs really invisible to Johnny or are they in the minds of Mam and Dad? Is the play even chronological? There is plenty to mull over about mental health and how we deal with it as individuals and as a society and it is a play which has a narrative that you'll reconcile in your own way.

It's very well done, using every inch of the Old Red Lion Theatre's bijou performance space. Maggie O'Brien stands out as Mam, turning spiteful and vicious in a heart beat and it was a relief to see a genuine warm and friendly smile at the curtain call.

It is two hours and 10 minutes including an interval and you can catch it until the 20 June.