Review: Dog Days

dog daysAn excited crowd flocked into the Drama Barn to witness the preview of York’s performance for the Inter-University Drama Festival, Dog Days, written and directed by James Soldan. It was a dramatic and well executed production, which showed off the best theatrical talent this university has to offer: an exciting teaser into what promises to be an thrilling festival this weekend.

The story was clever and intricate, an attempt to question and re-examine the truth of what actually happened on the 22nd August, 1972, when John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturile famously robbed a bank in Brooklyn, New York. The script revolves around Wojtowicz, played by Jason Ryall, as he groups together all the people involved in that day and attempts to reconstruct what truly happened. He works together with the hostages, bank manager and his partner to deliver an honest account of his own work, as well as the repercussions of the events. However, as it soon comes to light, there are many different versions and interpretations of the truth.

The set was bare, the effect striking. Tape was used to outline the major areas of the bank, such as the cash desk and alpacinothe vault. The audience simultaneously felt part of a crime scene and also part of a mismatched, surreal collusion of theatre and reality. Lighting was used to its perfection in highlighting the switch between different tones, characters and events, keeping both the fast pace alive throughout the piece and the audience on their toes. Cleverly, the use of projection transported the audience to 1970s New York, with images from the infamous film Dog Day Afternoon illustrating the reality of the situation.

However, what really made the show stand out were the cast, who worked flawlessly as an ensemble to deliver heightened yet subtle character performances, and uplifted the narrative-style tone of the piece. Particularly, Jason Ryall as the lead provided a captivating and enthralling Wojtowicz, a man tortured by a deprived reputation, struggling to imprint his version of the truth onto the audience. A stellar Brooklyn accent added depth to his well-established character, carrying the show with ease and determination. Another stand out performance by Lily Cooper, playing Shirley, the outspoken and quirky Irish cashier, who handled the character with fluidity and seamlessness, providing light and comic relief in the play’s most intense moments. There really wasn’t a weak link within the cast, a group who had clearly rehearsed endlessly to portray a professional and solid company. Their achievement mainly existed in their keeping of the high strung pace, which, even throughout Ryall’s lengthy monologues, kept the audience intrigued and captivated.

The story was a risk, a classic ‘boys-with-guns-robbing-banks-action-movie-esque’ piece, but it was pulled off because of the writing itself, which managed to create deep and individually strong characters, executed exceedingly by the cast. As a full-length, two act play, this may not have been as successful if extended, for there were areas of the story that provided dead ends and lapses in tension or pace. However, as a forty minute snapshot into the morally complex world of a man searching for the truth, it provided great entertainment. It gives way to an intriguing and exciting weekend at the Inter-University Drama Festival here at York University.

Dog Days the York entry to the Inter-University Drama Festival being held this weekend at the University of York’s Drama Barn and playing host to plays hailing from Newcastle, Bristol, UCL, Glasgow and Royal Holloway.