Reviewed on Wednesday 13th August 2014
To mark their final night before their deployment to Vietnam, Dogfight follows three Marines as they go out in search of the ugliest possible date they can find. Falling victim to this cruel bet is Rose (Laura Jane Matthewson) who, prior to being asked out by Corporal Eddie Birdlace (Jamie Muscato), has never been on a date in her life.
Some parts of the first act are extremely uncomfortable to sit through; the Marines' vulgar treatment of these poor girls is horrific. The majority of the audience found humour from within the situation, whereas I failed to find anything about it funny. Rose is a beautiful human being who always carries herself with composure and dignity.
I may not have seen the 1991 movie that the show is based on, but Dogfight certainly works as a musical. I love Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score which features commanding moments as well as heartfelt ballads. Peter Duchan's text smartly reveals Eddie's humanity as the second (more enjoyable) act progresses.
Dogfight isn't just about a love story as it also tackles issues surrounding war, but it's a shame the piece only begins to scratch the surface - more could be made of the brief protest scene. The Marines going off to war should be an incredible moment but I struggled to feel a great deal of compassion as they continue to behave so disgracefully.
Directed by Matt Ryan, the production never drags - the first act in particular flies by. Ryan focusses on the grit and darkness, but ultimately Dogfight is an eye opening show about priorities and how to deal with whatever hurdles life may throw at you.
The young cast, many of whom have recently completed their training, bring an exciting energy to proceedings. It's hard to believe this is Laura Jane Matthewson's professional stage debut. Her rendition of the act one finale 'Pretty Funny' provides one of the highlights of the show.
Jamie Muscato also steps into the limelight and delivers an impressive performance. I adored Muscato and Matthewson's rendition of 'First Date / Last Night'. However, for me the star of the show was Rebecca Trehearn (Marcy) whose vocals during the title number take the show up a notch. Trehearn showcases versatility throughout and it's such a shame we don't get to see more of her!
The major issue with this production is the poor sound design. The large band drowns out the cast throughout the majority of musical numbers. I often found myself leaning forward in an attempt to take in the lyrics, but ultimately the band is too overpowering and the balance is wrong. Perhaps this is due to complications with having such a large band in such an intimate venue, but I have never experienced sound problems at the Southwark Playhouse before.
The audience are seated alongside three sides of the theatre and too often the cast favour a particular side. I saw In The Heights three times throughout its recent run at the Southwark Playhouse and sat on a different side of the stage for each performance; I never felt as if I missed out on anything major. But sadly throughout last night’s performance of Dogfight I felt I was missing out on too many occasions which is a huge shame.
It's refreshing to see something which breaks away from what we have come to expect from romantic new musicals about self-discovery. There may be plenty of ballads, but the piece is unapologetic and doesn't feature a soppy love ballad. Rose is a fantastic character but there is also more to Eddie than first meets the eye.
While there are faults with the piece, I must stress that Dogfight is an amazing show and I will almost certainly catch it again before its limited run comes to an end.
Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Please visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit: Darren Bell