It was a low turnout at the intimate Finborough Theatre for John McKay’s
Highly amusing with plenty of dry humour
The slight delay to the start of the performance didn’t matter. We could probably have sat there all night listening to the fabulous songs of the period, but another revival was about to begin. This funny and heartwarming play premiered in 1988 with a sell-out run at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, after which it immediately transferred to London’s Royal Court Upstairs and then went on a UK tour. That’s the last time it was performed professionally until now.
It’s an important day for Eck (Angus Miller), as he munches his way through a bowl of cornflakes, rehearses his responses to the questions he anticipates being asked at his job interview with BBC (Scotland) and decides what to wear. It’s also a very special day as he has a date tonight, which is not a common occurrence in his life. If all goes to plan this day could mark a turning point in his life; a new job and a new girlfriend and he’s very positive about both.
Of course, that’s not how it works out at all. As he’s about to leave the house his father turns up unexpectedly. It’s a disturbing surprise for him given that his dad has been dead for twelve years. Willie (Liam Brennan) has somehow managed a day’s release from heaven and come to see how his son is doing. He was, of course doing very well but this surprise visit has turned his day into turmoil. Eck could just exchange pleasantries and leave his dad at home were it not for a sort of magnetic field that surrounds him. Every time Eck moves too far away from his dad he’s hit by a shock-wave that wont let him pass. Consequently, everywhere Eck goes, Willie goes too. And he’s not invisible. This ghostly haunting is a full bodily resurrection and so his presence has to be explained to the interviewing panel, the guys in the pub and, most disastrously, the girl he’s dressed up to meet.
This all makes for an evening that is highly amusing with plenty of dry humour. Miller is immediately engaging and makes Eck into a very likeable character, who would be easy to befriend; the sort of guy who would be a charming and witty pal. His mellifluous Dundee tones and chiselled features make him utterly endearing. Brennan similarly exudes charm but with an old-school manner emphasised by the sounds of what others in Scotland might call his county Kilmarnock accent. Even when silent his comedic manoeuvres entertain. That William maintains a view of the situation that regards it as non-problematic and even helpful to Eck makes everything even more amusing, It’s an insightful piece of casting that recognised the chemistry they would have as a duo. Director Liz Carruthers, has let their natural rapport shine through, kept the set simple, with just one versatile chair and used the limited space to maximum effect, creating various locations.
McKay was only 22 when he wrote Dead Dad Dog. It was, he says, “born out of the anarchic Edinburgh Alternative Comedy scene in the mid-1980s, and the radical ‘no set, no proscenium arch’ ethos of Grotowski-termed poor theatre”. He's been faithful to that spirit and confesses that he was ‘also a bit drunk’ and the time. He started writing it ‘one Christmas Eve, after the pub, back home in my childhood bed with a school pen and a bit of paper’. He admits it contains ‘nakedly autobiographical’ elements, his own father having died just a few years before, which probably helped him to focus on the relationship between Eck and Willie and craft if so meaningfully.
Reflecting on the play’s surprise success he says, “Sometimes you’re not experienced enough to do anything but tell the truth”. In Dead Dad Dog we have, pure and simple.
(Please Note that due to illness Sunny Boy has been withdrawn from this run)