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158

[The following contains spoilers.]

Ashley Milne’s “Bad Dog,” a University of York DramaSoc production, is currently playing at the Space on North Bridge. We are invited into a house of horrors, where we surprise two sisters, Eve (Sophie Lorraine Parkin) and Grace (Jess Corner), at a highly incriminating moment. Eve, it seems, has just murdered a dog.

It is not a pretty sight. She has evidently sliced open the carotid artery and taken a full jet in the face. She describes the dying dog as sounding like a babbling brook in a fairy story. There is such a quantity of blood on stage that the unfortunate beast is unlikely to have been a Chihuahua. We will notice that the couch in the centre of the stage is spotless, whilst strings of blood are hanging from every wall. This means that after Eve had cut the dog’s throat, she had swung it around over her head, spraying the blood in an enormous circle. The dog is therefore unlikely to have been a Great Dane either.

Bad Dog” thus begins with a bold, imaginatively designed picture, which it then requires us to ponder for a long time. If Eve looks so haunted – as if a cloak of damnation has been cast over her – it is soon explained that she and her sister are from one of those nests of Catholics that you find dotted around in the North. A libertine such as myself would murder a dog out of curiosity, before moving on to the next thrill and forgetting all about it. Eve remains defiantly guilty, as pinch-faced as Pinkie in Brighton Rock, snagged on what she and her sister would call “a sin.”

Theologically, this is mildly unsatisfactory. Dogs do not receive the body of Christ or confess to priests – they do not, in other words, have souls. They are trivial creations rather than the full constitutional citizens of God’s domain. But at least the Catholicism excuses this play’s potentially problematic title. Eve is not (just) a crazy bitch – she is a more gently metaphorical “bad dog,” who is off the leash and not heeding the querulous calls of her divine master.

A dog has been harmed. Today’s Fringe audience is wearing unimpressed, this-isn’t-funny faces. It is as though somebody has insulted their beloved European Union. When it becomes apparent that a dog might not necessarily have died, they relax and brighten up a bit.

The originality of “Bad Dog” is that it commences with what resembles a darkly humorous set-up and then makes us gradually take it more seriously. It will not crack a smile and there will be no relief. In fact, the play grows more and more remorseless; the performers will never flag in grinding all hope down, as though in a pestle and mortar. Eve helps to wash away the blood but we cannot see how she can ever possibly be clean.

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