Animals Are On Various U.K. Stages

News   Animals Are On Various U.K. Stages

The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a black comedy that centers on a psychotic Irish terrorist whose only humane emotion is aroused by his cat, Wee Thomas. Quite happy to slaughter humans indiscriminately, he has a soft spot for his feline friend.

A greater concern for pets than people is traditionally more of an English phenomenon, and one that gives an extra weight to the old adage of never appearing in a theatre with children or animals, on the grounds that they will invariably upstage you.

For all the horror and carnage that befalls humans in the course of an evening with The Lieutenant of Inishmore (and this, along with its dark humor and raunchy love scenes has attracted a much younger audience than is usual in the West End), it is the sight of various dead — and alive — cats that draws the most "oohs" and "aahs" out of the audience.

In Inishmore's case the animals add to the action, so break the taboo about performing alongside them. In Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill at the New End, Dawn Hope, playing an ailing Billie Holiday, appears towards the end of the show (at the New End Theatre, Hampstead) clutching a little lap dog to her bosom while she sings. The audience, who for the rest of the evening have been transfixed by Miss Hope's extraordinary singing voice, watch, mesmerized, as the little dog turns its head, licks her ear, struggles to get more comfortable — or, preferably, back onto the floor. Will it get cross and bite her? What if it wets itself — and her — with the excitement of the lights, the people, the volume, so close to its ears, of her voice?

Whatever reason the director had for having the dog onstage (maybe it was a trademark of the real Miss Holiday?), the effect at the New End is to pull focus away from the singing, and therefore the show.

Dogs are also a feature of another, much larger musical: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Dominion. Here they bound across the stage, but only briefly, and they, therefore, have a minimal impact on, and distraction from, the action. In fact, they seem entirely superfluous, other than raising some inevitable sighs from dog lovers in the audience.

Cats are much more closely associated with the stage than dogs — many theatres have a resident theatre cat, if only to keep mice out of the dressing rooms, and it can't be entirely coincidental that the longest-running musical in West End history was called Cats.

—By Paul Webb Theatrenow