Dead Dad Dog and Sunny Boy

It was a low turnout at the intimate Finborough Theatre for John McKay’s Dead Dad Dog, but we were all clearly in the mood for a fun night out. Sound Designer Julian Starr had selected some of the best music from the 80s to play as we took our seats. Such was the enthusiasm it generated that people started conversations across the three sides of the thrust stage. “What year was this one?” “Who’s singing this? I've forgotten his name.” “Oh I remember this one. I used to play it as I was getting ready to go out.” All this and more as we looked at the collage of music headlines from the period on a backdrop by set designer Alex Marker.

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)

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

“Why the soor face - did somebody die? Or not die quick enough?”

The first London production in 35 years, and the world premiere of its brand-new sequel

Dead Dad DogEdinburgh in the mid 1980s.

Young Alexander Dundee – Eck to his friends – is sharply ambitious, sexed-up and in a hurry, and eagerly awaiting the job interview that will change his life.

Little does he anticipate the sudden appearance of the spectre of his long-dead father, Wullie, a lugubrious ex-Hoover salesman – a flare-trousered 1970s picture of Caledonian cheesiness.

When they discover they can’t be further than a few feet apart without painful consequences, Eck is plunged into a blackly comic nightmare as he tries to survive the day with his dead father in tow…

Storming the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, in 1988, and immediately transferring to the Royal Court Theatre, Dead Dad Dog was a comic smash hit, embodying the new Scottish optimism of its time – loud-mouthed, hip and sharply-suited.

Sunny BoyIt’s 2023.

Now Eck is older than the ghost of his dead father, and has a troublesome 22-year-old son of his own, Bob, whom he is dropping in on as part of his plan to return – the conquering hero – to his homeland.

After all, Eck’s not old yet, is he? And he’s a much better father than Wullie ever was, right? And no one’s haunted by the ghosts of old Scotland anymore, right?

Fast, scandalous, and heartfelt, new play Sunny Boy takes the world of Dead Dad Dog and turns it – like contemporary Scotland – arse upwards.

In a blur of music, fast talk, unexpected nakedness, and poorly judged fashion choices, Sunny Boy twangs the nerve of permanent adolescence and parental guilt that is so familiar to the 1980s generation – who were supposed to grow up to inherit the world, and somehow failed to do so.

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