Dog and Actor are two short, explosive and vulnerable plays written by Steven Berkoff. Each explores the idea of façade – that of a football hooligan who treats racism like it’s fashionable, and that of an endlessly networking actor, desperate to be seen in fashion. These one-man shows, performed and directed by Stephen Smith, and dramaturged by Michael Blundell-Lithco, are in turn entertaining, uncomfortable, and intimate.
Riveting and stylish.
Dog sees Smith wrenched across the stage by his eponymous canine counterpart, Roy. As the hooligan relates his experiences with Roy, Smith fixes the audience with wide, conflict-inviting stares, and a personable and shining grin. Smith understands the dichotomy of violence: understanding that someone will, at some point, get hurt – but the threat of it is so much more convincing than the act. As such, his performance is one loaded with threat. Dog is a physical piece of drama and Smith rises to the physical challenge. The tension in his arms and hands, the way he opens and closes the doors of his van – all signpost very clearly to the audience where everything is, including Roy, exquisitely. There is no confusion as to what the world of Dog looks like, even though there are no props and no dog. Smith’s commitment to physical performance and inserting nuance into the most muscular efforts should be commended.
Actor provides the second tour-de-force of Smith’s double-bill. Via a transition of a few minutes, (which is steered away from awkward silences and coughs from an awaiting audience), Smith dresses, paints his face, and loads audio into a loop pedal on the floor. These loops are physical and intimate – perhaps cornerstones of Smith’s own style. The most effective layer of sound is that of four thudding beats, where Smith gently taps the microphone onto his chest. These mimic heartbeats, and the muffled yet persistent beats provide the rhythm by which he marches on the spot and delivers a persistently funny yet heartbreaking monologue that explores status and isolation as a job-seeking actor.
There is plenty in Smith’s performances which you cannot find in Berkoff’s words. What you will take away from Dog / Actor is Stephen Smith’s inimitable talent. Smith has taken care to present these works to a modern audience – he understands where some of Berkoff’s script may be dated, and revises them via his own physical and emotive discipline into current and inalienably satisfying performances. As a double-bill, the two works complement and challenge each other. Riveting and stylish takes on insecure characters, who both want the world.
This play was presented by Threedumb Theatre as part of their Six Plays, One Day event at the Tristan Bates Theatre on 9th February, 2019.