Occasionally, a piece of theatre comes along which leaves you blindsided. That’s how I felt after seeing the second play by Rosalind Blessed in last night’s double bill, The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People, a revival from 2016.

Blessed stars as Robin alongside Duncan Wilkins as James. They are a happily married couple, we are led to believe, but slowly through mostly solo scenes another story unfolds, one which is chilling, cold and ultimately catastrophic.

James is an affable, if nervous, type. When we first meet him he’s planning an anniversary meal and the mood is light. The audience is addressed directly, drawn in as collaborators in the surprise. But there’s something off in his manner and his words, and we start to feel unsettled.

Rosalind Blessed and Duncan Wilkins
Rosalind Blessed and Duncan Wilkins

There’s an old dog, called Ben, who has been surrogate child to the pair. His interaction with a Robin struggling to cope with a relationship which is declining at best and toxic at worst are portrayed in an amusing vignette, a flashback of howls and cuddles.

We start to feel for both the characters in this marriage, as we try to work out the whys and wherefores of how they got from their first fruitful meeting to what becomes an increasingly horrifying situation. Last year, the theme of stalking was explored in Richard Gadd’s self-penned solo play Baby Reindeer, where seemingly innocent acts built into a sinister and frightening whole.

Here, as Robin, vulnerable and open after her bath, discusses her troubles with James in a confessional way with us, we start to worry about what we have seen, and wonder what’s next. The great thing about The Delights of Dogs … is that the scene is handled with humour. Only on the edges is there something not quite right.

Rosalind Blessed
Rosalind Blessed

What makes this a superb piece of theatre is the build-up to a final scene which draws out all the skill the two actors can give it. It is brutal, uncompromising, but in no way sensational. It’s brilliantly done by both Blessed and Wilkins, who clearly trust each other enough to find the core of this broken pair within their troubling relationship.

Caroline Devlin directs and guides her cast with a great respect for Blessed’s text. No word or movement is wasted. We are there at the 4am sunrise and on the beer-stained dancefloor. We are engrossed in and repelled by the world created before us.

The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People could well be an early contender for one of my best shows seen in 2020. This is theatre at its most raw and most intimate. I do recommend you see it – it plays at the Old Red Lion until 1 February, in rep with Lullabies of the Lost, and runs a crisp 70 minutes.

Image credits Natalie Wells.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People.

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