Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed was a smash on Broadway – it received a couple of Tony Award nominations and a win for Julie White in the Leading Actress category – and, for a couple of reasons, it is easy to see why.
On one hand, it boasts a bright, sparky script that gives some great material to White’s (and here in the West End, Tamsin Greig’s) character especially; and on the other, rather importantly you suspect, it is all about ambitious actors, cut-throat agents and the skin-deep world of Hollywood buying up successful plays like this one.
The play follows up-and-coming Tinsletown actor Mitch (Rupert Friend), a handsome guy-next-door type whom you’d like your daughter to bring home – at least, that’s the high-gloss image his long term agent and best friend Diane would like to portray.
In fact, he has what she flippantly refers to as ‘a slight recurring case of homosexuality’, something which Diane is desperate to keep a secret, lest his ever-growing female fanbase should desert him before he even makes it to the top. In this buisness, only older English actors with a knighthood are allowed to be openly gay, she says.
So when Mitch falls for hustler Alex (Harry Lloyd), and seems to be getting tired of pretending that Diane herself is the love of his life, Diane goes into hyperdrive (not that she’s a laid-back character ordinarily), snapping up the rights to a hot Broadway play with the intention of cutting out its gay love story – naturally – and flying Mitch back to Hollywood, away from any ‘distractions’, to star in a big screen adaptation.
Diane, with her acid tongue, keen eye for the ridiculousness of the Hollywood game and yet overwhelming desire to win it, is without doubt the play’s richest and most enjoyable character, and Greig is brilliant in the role. She opens the production with a long monologue, setting the scene and speaking straight out to the audience, and she delivers it with the ad-libbing ease of a stand-up, making reference to the fact that we were a pretty good crowd for a Thursday, and reacting to particularly loud individual laughs.
Not all of the actors on stage are treated to such great material however – a couple of the early scenes between Mitch and Alex in particular feel overlong, rather leaving the audience actively awaiting Diane’s return to the stage. The pace picks up in the second half, though, as Mitch starts to reassess what he really wants - and not in the ‘love-conquers-all’ way one might expect - and Alex’s on-off girlfriend Ellen (Gemma Arteton shining in something of a slight role) becomes more involved in the action.
In the end, this play does not say a whole lot beyond the obvious: that Hollywood is a shallow place - and mindset - that ranks appearance high above reality and is full of people who air-kiss their way to the top, treading on whoever necessary. It is still rather charming and a lot of fun, however, and this production in particular benefits from an impressive and utterly assured performance from Greig.
written for MusicOMH.com