Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Theatre review: The Dog, the Night and the Knife

I never know quite what I'm going to get with Marius von Mayenburg, some of whose work I've found really memorable, other times it's left me cold. I think it comes down to how much directors of English-language productions are willing to embrace the heavy directorial touch common in European theatre, and which von Mayenburg is probably writing for. Translated, as usual, by Maja Zade, The Dog, the Night and the Knife falls somewhere in the middle in its UK premiere production at the Arcola. M (Michael Edwards) finds himself in a dark alley in a city he doesn't recognise. All he remembers of his recent past is that he had mussels for dinner - in fact this may be all he remembers of his entire life. A man in the alley is looking for his lost dog, then suddenly pulls a knife on M and gives him a flesh-wound; but in self-defence M grabs the knife and fatally stabs him.

He leaves the knife behind but it seems to follows him on his all-night journey through the city. Several of its residents (all played by Beth Park and Stephen Ventura) express a desperate hunger and seem keen to sate it by eating M; he kills them all instead.

The Dog, the Night and the Knife is a quasi-vampiric, Dalíesque nightmare which in Zade's translation has a sometimes hypnotic sense of the poetic. Oliver Dawe's production frames it in a clinical setting, suggesting from the word go that M's own insanity is behind his frightening journey. There are moments that really suck you in, and Park has a gift for being effortlessly sinister and infusing it with a sense of humour. There isn't, though, quite enough variety to sustain it for 90 minutes, Edwards' voice in particular has almost no variation in tone from start to finish. It means that about an hour in the repetitiveness of M's midnight encounters starts to grate. A show that teeters on the edge of being surreally brilliant, but doesn't quite come to crazy life.

The Dog, the Night and the Knife by Marius von Mayenburg in a version by Maja Zade is booking until the 18th of October at Arcola Studio 2.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

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