Mary Woodward Review

Man’s Best Friend, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

A Play, A Pie and A Pint

**** (4 stars)

Having failed to organise a ticket for last week, the first of the new season of PPP at the Traverse, I almost missed this week’s due to the extraordinarily dilatory nature of the no 26 bus which was supposed to get me to Princes St to connect with a bus to take me up Lothian Road and allow me to enter the theatre at a leisurely pace and enjoy the piece in a relaxed manner.  But hey, I got to my seat in time to find my notebook and take off my coat/ find somewhere safe for my stick, and then we began…

Ronnie is, enjoying a moment of zen-like calm before embarking on – what?  Slowly a picture emerges of a man struggling to keep a grip both on life and on the leads of the five dogs he’s ended up taking for walks, almost by accident.  He’s obviously not in employment, has a dog of his own, and his neighbours have realised he’s the answer to their lockdown prayers and asked him to take their dogs too.  It’s something he’s not a natural at: his self-invented ‘central lead’ is in sharp contrast to the “proper” multi-dog leads of the “professional” dog-walkers, Rosco and Jenna, who look down on him while urging him to adopt their ‘alpha male’ or ‘do it all with love’ methods of dog control.

Usually, Ronnie has a system – taking his Zen moment before getting the dogs out of his car in a set order: but today a moment of remembering [we don’t know what] rocks him off his balance.  Before he knows what’s happening, four of the dogs have rushed off who knows where and he, a self-confessed dog ignoramus, has first to release the fifth from the boot of his car, and then work out what to do.  As he searches, he paints a vivid picture of each dog and their owners, and admits that he hasn’t a clue what his own dog, Albert, thinks or wants.

Gradually he finds each dog and clips them to his central lead – only Albert is missing.   In his search he goes into the wood he usually avoid, and makes a startling discovery, during which we begin to understand both why he sometimes has trouble staying in the here and now and why he has problems with Albert.  A surprising ending to the story leads us to hope that Ronnie’s life has taken a turn for the better.

It was a play of two halves.  Ronnie’s graphic descriptions of dogs, dog walkers, dog owners, and the whole social etiquette surrounding dog walking were accurate and engrossing, eliciting many laughs from the audience as he bounded about the stage.  A complete change of mood, with consequent stillness and lowered lighting, was [to me] less gripping, though some people were reduced to tears – Ronnie’s experiences obviously struck a chord with them.  The ending was perhaps a little unbelievable, but very fitting, and illustrated why so many people see a dog as ‘man’s best friend’.

I was surprised to see a number of empty seats in Traverse 2 – perhaps other people had also had transport problems, or succumbed to the dreaded Covid…? Nonetheless, the audience reaction was very positive – right from the start actor Jonathan Watson had us engaged and laughing, and the applause at the end of the show was loud and appreciative.

Next week’s play is Daniel Getting Married – I intend to arrive in good time!

A Play, A Pie and A Pint, Man’s Best Friend, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Run Ended.

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