Romantic comedies are a staple of cinema, but it is rare to find a truly enchanting equivalent in the theatre. Luckily, Belvoir has brought back double bill The Dog / The Cat, an onstage rom-com that sparkles.
In two 40 minute plays, loosely tied together by the titular pets in each, the bill examines modern relationships with a light heart. It’ll bring laughs and tug at your heartstrings.
Brendan Cowell’s The Dog takes place in a dog park. Miracle (Sheridan Harbridge), an exasperated university professor who longs to make lasting change in the world, and her dog Lola, befriend Marcus (Benedict Hardie), an ambitious app-developer, and Ben (Xavier Samuel), his recently divorced, alcoholic roommate; , they co-own dog Jerry Seinfeld. Miracle and Ben start off taunting each other and in true rom-com style we eagerly await something more to develop. But Marcus is also determinedly pursuing Miracle: cue the love triangle.
Cowell’s play is largely a natural portrayal of the conversations and friendships we form with location-based strangers. With Ralph Myers’ light-hearted direction, and the talented cast, this play unravels agreeably before us, floating easily from moment to moment. It piques our interest in these characters’ love earned and lost, and captivates us in what led them to where they are. While it seems to have lost some of the intimacy it would have had in the downstairs theatre, and consequently, some of the more intense moments don’t affect us as much as they could, it still manages to charm.
While Cowell’s The Dog largely focuses on the blossoming of new relationships, Lally Katz’ The Cat is a comic yet touching look at a marriage breakdown and its ramifications. Albert (Hardie) and Alex’s (Harbridge) relationship recently ended, but they still share custody of the cat (a brooding Xavier Samuel). As they both try to move on with rebound relationships (here Harbridge is a hilariously over the top younger woman and Hardie is Alex’s energetic karate instructor), the cat soon makes his feelings about the divorce, and these new romantic partners, very clear.
Katz’ script, buoyed by Myers’ extravagant direction, embraces every romantic-comedy trope and cliché, even joyously sending up the genre with absurdist moments and musical numbers (there’s a moment with a bubble machine).
With Harbridge, who walks the line between scathing humour and droll exaggeration to incredible comic effect, Hardie who is an easily likeable Albert, and Samuel’s ruminating Cat (who becomes the star of the play as it progresses) there is plenty to enjoy.
The Cat pushes boundaries and our expectations, to great comic reward, but while it rakes in the laughs, it never forsakes the essential charm or heart that drives the story. Katz’s script, in the hands of Myer and this stellar cast, manages to entertain while revealing some sombre truths about modern day relationships, the heartbreak and fresh starts that come our way when we open ourselves up to love.
Instead of scanning the rom-com category on Netflix and re-watching Clueless, get to the theatre and see The Dog / The Cat; its intimate setting and laughter-filled study of contemporary dating is a winner.