My Life with the Dogs @ Tobacco Factory, Bristol

cast list
Alex Byrne, Iva Moberg, Kjell Moberg, David Pagan, Robert Orr, Elke Laleman

directed by
Alex Byrne
The award winning NiE (New International Encounter) are an ensemble of mixed European nationalities who stage warm and engaging works of physical theatre.

In their current piece, My Life With The Dogs, director Alex Byrne and his company have created a touching and beautiful production, one which successfully brings to the stage something of the atmosphere of 1990s Russia.

Inspired by true events, Dogs tells the story of Ivan Mishukov, a four-year-old boy who spent two years living on the streets of Moscow with wild dogs.
The characters in Ivan’s world are portrayed, via a mix of sentimentality and comedy, as only a child can see them. This is enanced by the use of dialogue in Russian, (which is then subtly translated into English) and with some extraordinary comic timing and almost endless amounts of energy on the part of the cast. Ivans mother and his ‘Uncle Boris’, the bleach salesman, are particularly vividly drawn.

Indeed, the way the cast continually transform themselves into multiple characters – including the dogs – is brilliantly achieved. With only very very little crawling around on all-fours, they convey a suitably canine quality. In fact the ‘dogs’ even speak a spot of English every now and then, but the cast still manage to capture what you would imagine is happening in a dog’s mind, in a manner that is often hilarious: this is balanced, precise stage acting, capable of both entrancing the audience entranced one minute and making them roll with laughter the next.

This is also a superb example of how to produce story-telling theatre that works just as well for teens as for adults. It really does make you feel as if a book has been opened up and the characters from the page have appeared before you, a sensation built upon by some fantastic ensemble playing and well-judged audience interaction.

The only drawback of this production, in my opinion, would be that, at just over 70 minutes, it could have done with being a tiny bit longer. As it is it ended somewhat unexpectedly and abruptly. But this wasn’t a major flaw and certainly didn’t impact on the wonderful way this small cast were able to recreate large scale ‘special effects’ in an intimate studio space.

My Life With The Dogs is at the Tobacco Factory Bristol until 10 October and then at the Drum Theatre, Plymouth from 13-17 October 2009

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