STaG (Student Theatre at Glasgow) like having fun. Their pocket farce “Styx” left me with very friendly feelings towards them at last year’s Fringe, and they are now back at the same venue, the Surgeons Hall, with Anna Saxberg‘s brand new “A Dog’s Tale.” Like any puppy, the new show is adorable and bouncing with energy. Today, rather intriguingly for a student play so early in the Fringe, it was sold out.
“A Dog’s Tale” is basically a Pixar movie in the flesh. If the actors performed this play in front of a green screen, whilst wearing those body suits covered in nodes, before feeding all of the coordinates into one of Pixar’s computers, the results would be probably indistinguishable. The story is set in late 1920s Neew Yoik, at a speakeasy for anthropomorphised dawgs and cats. There’s a pooch Bugs Moran, called Bony Maroney (Rob Anderson), and a pouting bar crooner and glamour puss called Lola (Harriet Rafferty). All of the pets talk in those classic Chicago and New York accents which you naturally expect from speaking animals in US cartoons. The story is not really worth following – it is enough to know that it involves a stolen diamond – but at its centre is the eager face of Johnny (Ruaridh Mathieson), an aw-shucks scrappy puppy. He gets into trouble and out again by virtue of his charm and sheer goodness.
There is nothing unfunny or even remotely complicated in this show, and nothing that the reviewer can really write about it other than that it works. I typically harbour a mistrust of successful farces because everyone on stage appears to be having too much fun. It looks as if nobody is putting in any effort. In truth, the fuel which keeps the lights on is a fussy attention to detail, and in “A Dog’s Tale,” the smaller the details the sharper they usually are. Pictures of the dogs lapping up moonshine with their tongues and using chewy toys as poker stakes seem to be the most vital pieces in the jigsaw.
The play can never relax; it always has to be immediate. And so there are Geneva Conventions-violating puns, the odd zinger, silly dancing, some mildly horrifying drag, melodic numbers, and excerpts from a radio show for dogs.
Only the songs could have done with some more welly – they were sung like karaoke, even though they were ostensibly original, and perhaps they were only there to formally qualify the show as a musical. Some misjudged innuendo about a dog “looking for a bone” in New York also jarred with the play’s keynote innocence, creating an effect as inconsistent as a lewd grin from the Little Mermaid. Otherwise one is inclined to be very lenient about everything. This troupe is immensely likeable and they like having fun. Most of the coccyxes in the audience were undoubtedly wagging.