Dogfight*** (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: August 24, 2014 in Theatre

Dogfight 6 Laura Jane Matthewson (Rose Fenney)  Jamie Muscato (Eddie Birdlace) Photo Darren BellAlthough Peter Duchan’s book for this 2012 American musical is actually based on a 1991 film drama, its story – three young US marines go out to enjoy one last night in the big city before setting sail to war the following morning – brings to mind Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town and, once that thought has become lodged in the head, everything that follows looks pale in comparison. Yes, that is an unfair way to view this show, just as it may be unfair to bemoan the fact that it falls below the exceptional standards set by Southwark Playhouse with recent musicals. Therefore, before going on, it is worth saying that there is much to enjoy in this production and, overall it is not really that bad, just flawed. The story is told in flashback – possibly a mistake as the first scene gives too much away. The setting is San Francisco and the date is 21 November 1963 – it is not clear why this is made so specific, as there is no strong connection with the world-shattering event of the day after. The Vietnam war is in its early stages and the marines have little idea of what to expect as they play their traditional game of “dogfight”, the offensive misogyny of which casts an ugly shadow over the first half of the show. The game then leads on to a trite and predictable romance between one of the marines, Eddie Birdlace (James Muscato) and a waitress, Rose (Laura Jane Matthewson). Both leading performance are excellent and they get top class support from a company of nine. Individually, the songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are quite pleasing, but they lack distinctiveness and variety, with the result that, cumulatively, they have a dampening effect, increasing as the show progresses. This feeling of a show that is always diminishing in strength is not helped, in Matt Ryan’s production, by most of the choreography being in the early scenes, leaving very little of it for a generally lacklustre second half. Dogfight is not a disaster, just a disappointment.

Performance date: 23 August 2014

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