Thursday 14 August 2014

Dogfight @ The Southwark Playhouse

A group of marines arrive in the big city to woo the ladies for one night only before heading off to war.  Yes, it's the plot of Bernstein's On The Town, but it's the same notion that forms the basis of Dogfight, a new musical that originally debuted off-Broadway in 2012, based on the 1991 film of the same name.

Dogfight, however, is the antithesis of Bernstein's charming, romantic fairytale.  Set in 1963, the marines have a wager to see who can bring the ugliest girl to the party on their last night before heading to Vietnam.  It's a perverse game and an interesting twist on the usual boy-meets-girl narrative, though the relationship between protagonist Eddie Birdlace and Rose Fenny soon becomes clich├ęd and predictable.

Mostly, their relationship just isn't believable.  As a whole, the marines are utterly unlikeable and near impossible to sympathise with; a group of smarmy, aggressive jarheads out to corrupt the innocence of young girls like Rose.  Jamie Muscato offers a brilliantly frightening performance as the unpredictable Eddie, but when he treats her so badly it's difficult to see what Rose sees in him.  Why should she give him a second chance?  It's an overly romantic development in an otherwise raw and realistically toned musical.  And with the emphasis on the central couple, the characterisation of the supporting cast suffers.

The music, from Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, is wonderful, elevating a simple love story.  Mixing modern musical theatre with some Dylan-esque folk and contemporary rock and roll, it is a surprisingly complex score with some beautiful ballads.  And whilst the male vocals are suitably laddish, the female performers are stunning.  Rebecca Trehearn is underused besides a belting delivery of the title song, whilst Laura Jane Matthewson has a beautifully warm and gentle tone perfectly suited to the innocent Rose.  Some words (lyrics and script) are lost through poor diction, though this may be more of a sound issue.

Director Matt Ryan does provide a powerful ending with a well realised and shocking scene of the marines in Vietnam, though the political elements feel a little tacked on.  It's a predictably tragic end that highlights the difficulties of marines re-integrating into society, but it begs the question: does their sacrifice excuse their misogynistic behaviour?  Not in my book.


Watch: Dogfight runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 13th September.