A mini-debate engaged Theatreland in September last year after Hugh Jackman broke through the fourth wall to gently reprimand a theatregoer who inconsiderately let their phone ring during his performance in A Steady Rain on Broadway.
The debate touched on whether such behaviour does away with professionalism. To Jackman’s credit, he stayed in character and entertained the crowd. To break through the fourth wall, essentially, is to engage with the audience, to remember they are there. No matter how cleverly the script has been written, it’s generally down to the director and the actors as to whether this can be accomplished.
Ticking every box, The A Little Dog Laughed has a well delivered, fantastically punchy script, cleverly crafted by director Jamie Lloyd. As predicted, it is Tamsin Greig whose artful, high octane Hollywood agent Diane spectacularly ignites the comic fuel. Ending the fourth wall argument, she frequently gives a nod and a wink to the audience, assuming their empathy with her need to bullshit everyone. Theatreland should embrace this.
The Little Dog Laughed sees rising star Mitchell (Rupert Friend) fall for rent boy Alex (Harry Lloyd) neither of whom would really call themselves gay. Love-lorn gal pal and occasional shag Ellen (Gemma Arterton) doesn't so much complicate matters as provide a reminder that feelings are involved somewhere.
Friend seems to enjoy life as an arrogant, self-indulgent American drunk and pulls of his West End debut with convincing self-delusion and less convincing affection. Gemma Arterton on the other hand, wastes the first half imitating Tamsin Greig and smothering Ellen’s awareness of her own bleak existence, so that her character becomes utterly indistinct and intolerably irritating. In Act 2, things get a little more emotional and she comes into her own.
The play questions the need to define oneself for another, but don't expect an in-depth exploration of what it means to be metrosexual or how to achieve one's ambitions without ending up hollow inside. As writer Douglas Carter Bean intended it, this is essentially an American comedy, but it fares well on this side of the pond too. Jamie Lloyd has kept the well paced, bouncy production appropriately cynical and easy on the morality. The minimalist set design downplays the New York/ LA contrast but it's not lost on us. The background tableaux juxtaposed with energetic explanatory monologues – almost instructional in their detail on how to make it in Hollywood – make this show effectively sharp.
With wit, professionalism and an understanding of their audience, Lloyd and Greig have expertly knocked down that fourth wall, may Theatreland follow.
Photo Credit: Johan Presson
The Little Dog Laughed at Garrick Theatre - Spoonfed London