When I read the blurb for Woof. It sounded exciting and I was very curious. A doomsday scenario where a bunch of dogs appear out of nowhere. Like heaps. No one knows where they came from nor why. I’m not going to pretend my love of dogs wasn’t a huge lure. But I was also intrigued about a doomsday story arc. It actually turned out to be really weirdly normal.
There are 4 distinctive nested performances set within this dystopian universe, each with different writers who were given the same prompt. Throughout the show an interval of a dog duo separates these stories.
The normalcy of it all in the first play Walter stood out to me. Megan Rundle wrote a brilliant commentary on modern dating in young adulthood which foreshadowed the looming dogocalypse. As someone is house sitting, the dog they’re looking after goes missing. When they find the dog at the local park they notice that there seems to be a lot of dogs around. But maybe it’s normal for that suburb? It’s a weird thing to be hyper aware of. As always, pet dogs seem to be able to detect an impending change.
The pacing of this story resembles a slow burn where there is something subtle yet tangible unravelling before our eyes. I couldn’t help but compare this universe to our own recent worldwide phenomena that manifested in a pandemic. The story of a dogocalypse doesn’t seem so strange now does it?
Woof. Photography by Sophie Minisalle.
Commitment Team had a minimal yet impactful presentation as the second play. The chronology and flow of the three characters’ story telling was disjointed and hard to follow. Yet the personality and demeanour of all three characters shone through in the performances of El Finnie, Shannon Rogers, and Rebecca Collins. The lighting stood out in this one, as the blue and red hues somehow simultaneously created an ambiance and intensity. The lighting also focused on the gallery of dog paintings on stage which made them an integral piece of the production, while drawing all of these stories together. I couldn’t stop looking at it before the show as the lights hit different images in the gallery. Anaïs Popoff-Asotoff and Daniela Da Costa nailed it.
The third play, Hit, had a rich mix of artefacts in the story that lingered in my mind. The extremity of a doomsday prepper can be unsettling and Benjamin Quirk’s performance captured the frantic nature of this demographic quite well. But I couldn’t help but be impressed that an automated calibration locking systems consultant would have designed a bunker for any season and not fail to consider a dogocalypse. Because different dooms have different fallouts of course. Somehow that was believable and didn’t seem weird.
There’s a plot twist at the end of this play that really humanised the hitman and doomsday prepper characters. There were some really big moral questions in there that surprised me by making me sympathise with these two morally questionable people. A paper chain of people was a quirky element that lightened the heavy topic and dark character arcs. After the show, I found myself talking to an extroverted partner about how we would cope in a bunker without having a supply of people to fuel our souls. I now have a mental note if I ever end up in a bunker to bring paper and crayons of every skin colour so I don’t get lonely. I can’t believe I just wrote that.
Woof. Photography by Sophie Minisalle.
The final story within this absurd universe concluded with a relatable narrative. Dogterrain puts us directly into the calamity with a story set at ground zero. The dogocalypse is in full swing by this point and we’re just watching two people on their way to a housewarming hiding in a roboticised public toilet cubicle where they wait out the raid of canines nearby so they can step outside in relative safety and continue on their way. Seems pretty normal, right? Or is that just me? In a pre COVID world a dogocalypse would be surrealism at its finest. However, in 2022 it’s weirdly poignant and almost hyper-realism at its finest, now that we know how society would handle a worldwide cataclysm.
Mikey Issit and Ben Nixon give an endearing and hilarious performance as two well-presented dogs. The juxtaposition of well-dressed men who speak with a vocabulary that is refined by an 8-year old’s standard perfectly articulates the differences between standards for intelligence across species. Or perhaps you could consider it anachronistic that they speak with the vocabulary of a well-spoken child but dress like someone who is seven times that age, which makes it a nuanced developmental portrayal of dog years in human actors. By the end of the first scene, I had my suspicions that these characters weren’t human but it took my date until the third scene to realise.
Walking out of the theatre afterwards I heard mixed remarks including both praise and bewilderment. This makes me think that maybe everyone experienced this set of plays differently and absorbed the themes in their own space and time. If you’re deciding to see Woof., perhaps you shouldn’t take my word for it and see how your experience compares.
Woof. presented by Runaway Balloonis on now until October 15th at The Subiaco Arts Centre.