This show has immense heart, and a strong message of hope and belonging.
Presented by Slingsby and State Theatre Company South Australia
Reviewed 25 February 2021
It’s not every day you can say you were one of the first to see a brand new piece of theatre. It is even more rare to say that what you witnessed was so close to perfect that it would leave you uncertain how to put your thoughts down on paper.
The Boy Who Talked To Dogs is a unique theatrical experience, produced in collaboration between Slingsby and the State Theatre Company of South Australia. Both companies are known for producing high-quality theatre, but together, they take this show into another realm.
This show is based on the life of Martin McKenna, known as Australia’s ‘Dog Man’. It is the story of his upbringing in Ireland and how at the age of 13 he ran away from home, living for several years with a pack of wild dogs. His life story is powerful, and includes strong messages about acceptance and dealing with hardship, love and loss.
Before I go any further, I do need to advise that this show needs a trigger warning, specifically regarding domestic violence and depression. Both are handled in a sensitive, delicate way, but it is clearly portrayed how both can affect people negatively.
The audience is immersed into the show from the moment they step into the auditorium. Cabaret seating is dotted around the room (or as it’s referred to, the Irish pub ‘The Harp and Hound’), an Irish trio plays reels in one corner, a small stage sits in the centre of the room, and three large wooden panels fill the remaining corners of the room.
Director Andy Packer has done an outstanding job bringing this heartfelt story to life in such a unique manner. He is of course supported by a large list of creatives in sound, lighting, wardrobe and set. Every detail in this production is carefully and sensitively handled. Every element compliments the vision of Packer, making it a complete theatrical experience. The set design by Wendy Todd is unique. The way it unfolds in front of the audience in the corners of the room is a sight you really need to see to fully appreciate the genius behind the design. With each unveiling, you are transported to another location in McKenna’s story, or even his mind. The use of projection aids in this, along with shadow puppetry in the most amazing ways.
The most unique aspect of this show is that it’s driven by a single actor, Bryan Burroughs, who is then supported by the character, Muso, and her two fellow musicians. Not only does Burroughs portray the role of Martin McKenna, but also his parents and school teacher. The change between each character is seamless. Burroughs’ mannerisms and voice changes between each character, leaving no doubt at any time as to who he is portraying. He is truly in his own league of acting, and to see him throw himself into this role is spellbinding.
The role of the Muso, played by Victoria Falconer, is somewhere between a narrator and subconscious element of McKenna’s mind that assists with moving the story forward. Falconer’s vocals throughout the show are both haunting and soulful. She is a master of her craft in her own right.
Falconer is supported by Emma Luker and composer Quincy Grant to complete the band. The musicians together are faultless. Their presence is there when it needs to be without ever pulling focus from the main point of action.
I could go on and on praising this production, but you need to witness this show for yourself. The Boy Who Talked To Dogs has immense heart. In all the twists and turns of McKenna’s life, one thing he brings home time and time again is hope. No matter how dark and stormy your life may be, all it takes is for someone (or in McKenna’s case, some animal friends) to reach out, offer a helping hand and unconditional love, and you too will find peace. The storm will pass.
Reviewed by Ben Stefanoff
Venue: Thomas Edmonds Opera Studio, Adelaide Show Grounds
Season: Thurs 25 Feb – Sunday 14 March
Duration: 70 mins, no intermission
Tickets: From $47
Rating out of 5: 5
Photo Credit: Andy Rasheed