First published in The Times, Tuesday September 26 2017
This is not the first time this year that a performer has taken on the role of man’s best friend on the stage at the Citizens. In May, the actor Ewan Somers gave a memorable turn as an amorous Irish wolfhound in a revival of Giles Havergal’s celebrated version of Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt.
A mere four months on and another literary adaptation is affording Somers and a dozen of his fellow actors the opportunity to play not only dogs and chickens but also guards and prisoners in a Soviet labour camp. In the opening moments of Helena Kaut-Howson’s production, based on the 1975 allegorical novel by Georgi Vladimov, the dissident writer, we watch the company being put through its paces in a military-style drill, snapping from canine to human and back again in response to barked commands.
Graham Greene described his 1969 novel, Travels with My Aunt, as “the only book I have written just for the fun of it.” Indeed, there appears to be little urgent reason to revive the acclaimed theatrical adaptation, written by Giles Havergal, the former artistic director of the Citizens Theatre, other than for its sheer entertainment value. The play, first staged in 1989, and still regularly performed, can certainly draw appreciative laughter, even if it shows its age.
Sometimes the power of theatre to transport its audience can be instantaneous. As we make our way, still dripping from a June shower, into the auditorium of Dundee Rep, Ken Harrison’s set of rusticated gold pillars and wrought iron archways, made to gleam by Mike Robertson’s lighting, produces a palpably warming, comforting effect. People can be seen basking their faces in the glow. It’s like the start of a much-needed summer holiday.