DOGFIGHT

Date 19th July 2019
Society Belvoir Players Academy
Venue Belvoir Studio Theatre, Belfast
Type of Production Musical
Director Jonathan Brown
Musical Director Matthew Quinn
Choreographer Adam Vaughan

Report

Author: Sheelagh Hobart

This musical, by Pasek & Paul (of Greatest Showman and Dear Evan Hansen fame) was premiered off Broadway in 2012 and in London in 2014. It dealt with the social and cultural issues around the 1960s and the Vietnam war.

Belvoir Academy’s summer workshop regularly explores new ground and gives aspiring theatricals the chance to work to an intense schedule on a production they may not otherwise take part in. This show was new to me – the story being of three Marines (the 3 Bees) who decide to spend their last night before initial deployment on partying and the ritual of a “dogfight” (which entails a competition to see who can bring the ugliest girl to the party).

The Set, adapted skilfully from last year’s spring production, worked well and the stairs leading up to upper walkways/balconies on either side of the stage were frequently used (stage right balcony being Rose’s small bedroom.) Two functional doors were centre back and the cast could also enter/exit under the stairs and walkways. Authentic costumes were sourced from Belvoir’s own costume department and hair/makeup were suitable, particularly short hair (or man-bun) for the marines. Battle sound effects were particularly convincing and Lighting sometimes stunning.

The small cast enabled everyone to have their ‘moment’ and minor roles were all well covered. As well as taking part in the Ensemble was Meabh Quinn as Mama bringing maturity to the adult role; Serena Smart, Aoife Mageean and Claire McCrory who were ‘dates’ at the party and lounge singers Annie McIlwaine, Emiko Seawright & Claire Whitehead who were suitably seedy! Niamh Connelly played the brash and toothless prostitute Marcy, who Boland paid to be his date – she was very convincing as ‘the tart with the heart’ who took Rose under her wing. Tommy Bell was the nerdy and sexually inexperienced Bernstein. He portrayed the tall awkward young marine extremely well, as did Dessie Havlin as the equally inexperienced but bravado displaying Boland. Tommy and Dessie contrasted effectively with each other. The third “3 Bees” marine was Nathan Wafflart as Eddie Birdlace, who started off as “one of the boys” but was gradually changed under the influence of his girlfriend – realising that their Marine ritual was wrong. Nathan showed his changes of attitude in a serious way and his burgeoning relationship with Rose was sensitively handled. Leading lady Lucy McIlwaine gave an excellent performance as Rose Fenny – starting as a shy waitress at a diner who has dreams of becoming a folk musician 

and gradually showing her strength when she discovers what the ‘dogfight’ really means. Lucy sang beautifully – I preferred her quieter folk voice to the big ballad voice. When Eddie apologised and persuaded Rose to have dinner with him and they then spent the night together, Nathan developed a good onstage rapport and the show’s finale after the war when they re-united was a welcome ending.

MD Matthew Quinn led his 6 piece band with authority from his keyboard – not an easy score it seemed to me. The cast were well tutored and stage and pit (stage left) were well balanced. Although I sometimes thought there were too many distractions during solo or duet numbers, Jonathan Brown did a stirling job in his first senior Director’s role and was well supported by Choreographer Adam Vaughan. Covering genres from quiet ballads to battle scene, from cruelty to hope; this show required co-operation between director, choreographer, MD, technicians backstage and cast and was a real ensemble piece.

An unfamiliar show gave me a surprising and uplifting evening of theatre. My thanks to everyone.

 

Sheelagh Hobart

Noda Regional Rep. for Ireland