Review: Dog Show at the Pleasance Theatre N7

Thank Dog this show exists – because in the 1980s it might have hounded off the stage.

Dog Show is as energetic as a greyhound chasing a rabbit and as joyous as watching your mutt eating your homework.

And all this sizzling pace is kept up for almost two-and-a-half hours, which is long enough to flatten the most hardy Duracell batteries.

It’s not for the prurient, though. Anyone old enough and reactionary enough to have supported Mary Whitehouse is not going to have fun watching five performers in kooky gear cantering, cavorting and cackling around, singing explicit songs and doing what puppies do – humping furniture.

It’s definitely a very modern show.

Ginger Johnson and David Cummings’ late-night canine cabaret does cock its leg at the fetishisation of queer bodies and queer culture.

But the effervescent duo’s script and songs are boosted by strong comic performances from the drag circuit, featuring breakdancing, burlesque, rap, spoken word and lip-syncing of 1990s Aids campaigner Octavia St Laurent.

Some descriptions give the impression it will be hectoring, but it’s not – instead it is a celebratory mix of good jokes, sparkling, silly songs and exuberant staging.

Dog Show is, though, a love letter to all the bits of queer culture that are too dirty, drippy, complex and confrontational to be accepted by more conventional circles. 

There is a touching tribute to Laika, the martyred Russian space terrier; an emotional support dog who cannot cope and as rousing a feminist rap as Beyonce and Lizzo could muster.

There are zingy set pieces, sparkly and gleeful costumes and smart comment on human – and doggy – nature.

The story of dogs looking for a human home is an excuse for kinky mongrel fun, with just about all that implies. “Think Leigh Bowery goes to Crufts,” says my press release, and there’s not much arguing with that.

The costume design is by Kelli Des Jarlais, from Drakefell Road, Brockley, who runs a firm which specialises in fettish wear for plus-size people. She said: “My inspiration is from how people dress dogs – but also what a dog might choose to wear, if given the chance.

“I also wanted to convey the different breeds we feature – a poodle, afghan hound, staffy, jack russell and pug – through their ears and tails. Because a lot of dogs in so-called ‘puppy play’ on the fettish scene are just generic.

“I understand what people want if they are part of the scene. I find that scene interesting, although it is not my thing. I can still understand and empathise with it, without judgement.

“Clothing is a huge part of how we express ourselves and our identity, which is why I have always loved fashion and clothes.”

Yes, it’s time for the muzzles to come off. Unless you prefer a diet of vanilla sex and Mary Whitehouse platitudes. In which case you are probably the person who needs it the most.


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