The audience knows, more or less, what they are in for with Dog Show. We are down an alley in a warehouse behind the North Melbourne Fringe Hub (one of the prized venues close to the action), greeted by three hyperactive performers who are very happy to see us. The circular astroturf with cushions and raked seating creates a pleasingly intimate and energy filled arena; Dann Barber has painted a muted and quite drab recreation of a Royal Agricultural Society portrait of the Queen and her favourite breeds. The backdrop adds to the rabid, off-kilter atmosphere by contrasting to lurid, shiny costumes and caked makeup.
Originally developed for La Mama Theatre 2017 Explorations Season, Dog Show began as a more interactive project where votes were cast to decide the Best In Show each night. Our contestants are Kara (Simone French) and her muntedly razzmatazz Chihuahua, Benjamin (Alex Roe) and his sad Whippet and a newcomer Joseph (Adam Ibrahim) with their Afghan Hound on heat.
At the opening of the show, we see the handler descend into the hound and it is glorious. They are all a joy and incredibly dedicated movers – it’s physical but to a, kind of, insane degree. A highlight of the piece is the live scoring by drummer Cassandra Kumashov who keeps the energy up and signals the morphing from dog to human or reality to dream. There are a few departures from the formulaic dog competition into flights of fantasy, as director Cass Fumi enjoys employing. They are necessary to break up the aggressive forward motion of the battle, but sometimes land as gimmicks rather than moments of release and new energy. Dog Show is a wild, sweaty ride and fits the fringe bill perfectly; the audience left panting like pups.