Heart of a Dog: A beautifully imagined examination of society’s argument with itself

Review: O’Donoghue hits both the comedy and tragedy target of Bulgakov’s parody

Matthew O’Brien as Dog and Steve Blount as Ivor, performing a scene from Heart of a Dog by Éadaoin O’Donoghue. Photograph: Darragh Kane

Matthew O’Brien as Dog and Steve Blount as Ivor, performing a scene from Heart of a Dog by Éadaoin O’Donoghue. Photograph: Darragh Kane

 

HEART OF A DOG

Everyman Theatre, Cork
★★★★☆

When we first meet Matthew O’Brien in Heart of a Dog, he is the eponymous canine, meticulously modelled by Lisa Zagone, the production’s set and costume designer, as a mangy class of a lurcher. Sharik is, like Lewis Carroll’s white rabbit, all ears and whiskers, and Sweeney manipulates his sniffs, scratches and howls with elegant empathy, especially wistful in his song Esperanza, a motif that signals the passage of time and of hopefulness.

In a nod to her provenance, Éadaoin O’Donoghue describes her play as transplanted rather than translated from Mikhail Bulgakov’s parody from 1925. This of course is also a matter of transplants, with Sharik the victim of crazed geneticists who reconstitute him surgically as a man only to discover too late that their creature is beyond their control and a threat to the established order of human society. Also, of course, to themselves.

This was Bulgakov’s target, and O’Donoghue has hit both its comedy and its tragedy, although the dramatic fluency slackens with the shift from dog to an equally astray man, and to the debate about whether the prospects of such transformations suggest a miracle or a curse.

Directed with panache by John O’Brien and now touring to the Civic Theatre in Tallaght, this beautifully imagined production is the first live presentation on the Everyman stage for 18 months. Illuminated by the sharply questioning lighting from Stephen Dodd, its impressive cast is commanded by Derbhle Crotty, its metaphor sustained by O’Brien and Peter Power’s score, sweeping from commentary to prophesy with strings, percussion, bass, drums and voices. It is a convincing affirmation of theatre’s renewed obligation to reflect and to examine society’s argument with itself, even when disguised.

Cork run concluded. At the Civic Theatre, Tallaght, as part of DublinTheatre Festival, from Wednesday, September 29th, until Sunday, October 3rd

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