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Review: Heart of a Dog

A punchy and gripping absurdist success


For those looking for a hilarious and thought-provoking new adaptation this week, Heart of a Dog is an absolute delight that shocked and uplifted a chilly spring evening. Miles Hitchens‘ work as both writer and director was extremely successful in conveying the plot in an engaging way, aided by some stellar characterisation.

The plot is simple enough; adapted from Mikhail Bulgakov’s novella of the same name, we follow the japes of a dog-turned-man in 1925 Moscow. Playing with themes of Bolshevism, the play’s satirical elements are well expounded upon in this adaptation, meaning that raucous laughter is often accompanied by moments of contemplation.

The Master and Mutt? [Image Credits: Katie Burge]

The shorter nature of the play meant that there was never a dull moment, and it made good use of different structures within such as two sets of tableaux for the operation scenes, a funny fourth-wall-breaking presentation given by Zina, and Sharik’s monologuing whilst in dog form compared to his relative separation from the audience when in human form. A really innovative form of story-telling, which really added to the dynamic and exciting nature of the play.

And of course, this was aided by some truly incredible acting. Emery Glas as Sharik the dog had characterisation down to a T, somehow managing to humanise an experience as a dog and yet retain a devilish canine grin whilst in human form. They were truly unpredictable, and their behaviour as a human really added to a sense of absurdism. For example, randomly jumping over sofas and flipping people off in silent moments really got reactions out of the audience. Their mannerisms were in general also clearly choreographed in great detail, and it’s really something you can only experience yourself by going to see it; the perfect balance of absurdism without tipping too far into pure slapstick or melodrama.

Rising tension [Image Credits: Katie Burge]

As well as being a clearly very talented writer and director, Miles Hitchens was incredible as Philip Philipovich. His mannerisms suited that of a quasi-mad scientist perfectly, and this was accompanied by what can only be described as the best animated voice-acting that I’ve ever seen in Cambridge theatre – there is a cartoon villain-esque tone to his cadences that makes his portrayal of the doctor really convincing. And again, he also is able to offer some really poignant moments amidst some equally devilish behaviour.

Rising tension [Image Credits: Katie Burge]

As well as being a clearly very talented writer and director, Miles Hitchens was incredible as Philip Philipovich. His mannerisms suited that of a quasi-mad scientist perfectly, and this was accompanied by what can only be described as the best animated voice-acting that I’ve ever seen in Cambridge theatre – there is a cartoon villain-esque tone to his cadences that makes his portrayal of the doctor really convincing. And again, he also is able to offer some really poignant moments amidst some equally devilish behaviour.

Flood! [Image Credits: Katie Burge]

This was well-suited to the garishly wallpapered set, which gave the impression of homeliness and also an underlying sense of the uncanny. Along with this were some effective lighting moments, such as blue lighting when the apartment flooded and a flickering lightbulb that is referred to many times. All in all, the play was successful in creating a microcosm that sucked us into a world of politics and the absurd.

As the first play I’ve seen this Easter term, there was truly no better way to start it off than with this absolute joy of a piece. Its length was perfect, its plot was engaging, and although I feared an unsatisfying or tragic ending, I can safely say that all my fears were quelled. Heart of a Dog can be characterised by nothing less than charm and great skill. An absolute must-watch!

4/5

Heart of a Dog is showing on the 3rd – 6th of May at 9:30 pm at the Corpus Playroom. Book your tickets here.