The British Theatre Academy is presenting its summer season for the 5th year with four productions at the Southwark Playhouse. Footloose and My Son Pinocchio Jr have been staged and currently Once on this Island is in the Large while Dogfight is playing in The Little.
The British Theatre Academy offers accessible theatre training and performance opportunities for young people under the age of 23. They have a great mission statement and are obviously striving to make a difference for young people wanting to make their careers in the theatre and performing arts industries.
It is really quite shocking therefore that they have chosen to present such a stinking pile of misogynist clap trap. I was horrified by the content of this musical and if I had not been reviewing the performance would have left the theatre long before the end. This is absolutely no criticism of the cast and musicians who were very good.
Based on the 1991 film, the story centres on three young marines, Eddie Birdlace and his buddies Bernstein and Boland (the three Bs) who, in 1963, are having their last night out before being deployed to Vietnam. The dogfight of the title refers to a “competition” to bring the ugliest girl to a dance to win some money. Eddie meets Rose in a diner and decides to take her along. Meanwhile his buddy Bernstein breaks the “rules” of the dogfight by hiring a prostitute, Marcy, who wins seemingly by having a missing tooth.
After Marcy tells Rose that the party was in fact a dogfight, Rose punches Eddie and storms off. After stopping his buddies from raping a prostitute (wow that punch has really enlightened him) Eddie goes back to the diner to find Rose.
It is really difficult to articulate how utterly offensive this musical is. Am I naïve enough to think that “dogfights” don’t happen – of course not. Do I want to see a whole musical about it – absolutely not. Do I want to see a group of talented young women reduced in this way – most definitely not.
This show is written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, more known for the incredibly uplifting music for The Greatest Showman as wells as the much acclaimed on Broadway and widely anticipated to the West End “Dear Evan Hansen”. All I can say about this piece is “what were they thinking?”
The students actually do a sterling job with what they have been given. Steven Lewis-Johnston as Eddie has good presence and a strong singing voice. Matthew Michaels is convincingly hideous as his macho mate Bernstein and Joe Munn is good as the naïve, vulnerable Boland.
Charlotte Coles is powerful as Marcy, packing a punch with the song “Dogfight”, while Claire Keenan is the real stand out as Rose. If Waitress is looking for a new Dawn in the future, Keenan has just the right mix of vulnerability, comedic edge and powerhouse voice for that role. Definitely one to watch.
It is difficult to comment on the other women in the cast as they are just cannon fodder. I could not help wondering whether these were the naughty students, the constantly late to class, dog ate my homework group. Was this their punishment? Even more galling for them that they are in this dreadful show while their cohort are next door performing the stunning, uplifting Once on this Island. Shame on whoever chose this musical. These students deserved better.
Review by Emma Heath
Photo: Eliza Wilmot
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