Monday, March 8, 2021




The Boy Who Talked to Dogs. 

Adapted from Martin McKenna’s book by Amy Connroy.. Directed by Andy Packer. Composer/performer Quincy Grant State Theatre Company of South Australia and Slingsby. Thomas Edmonds Opera Studio. Wayville  Showgrounds. Adelaide Festival February 25 – March 14 2021

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Welcome to the Harp and Hound and the tale of The Boy Who Talked To Dogs Three musicians on Piano accordion (Victoria Falconer), violin (Emma Luca( and guitar (Quincy Grant) are raising up a lively, infectious Irish jig. The audiencem in to the tables scattered about the room in a cabaret fashion. There is an air of festivity in the room as the musicians introduce a quiz about dogs that could win the lucky trivia lover a meat tray and 7/10 took the prize. Suddenly a man shuffles through into the crowded room. The musicians stop, asking the somewhat disheveled man to take a seat. He resists and the pianoaccordionist eventually addresses Martin McKenna  (Brian Burroughs), directly. His retort is a riddle “What do you get when you take a lump of coal and apply severe pressure over a very long time?" The answer: ""Dirty hands. And so Amy Conroy’s play about the lad from Limerick who came to live among dogs and leave his native land for Nimbin begins.

Brian Burroughs as Martin McKenna
 The Boy Who Talked to Dogs is  warm-hearted,life-affirming  tale of the search for identity and true self in a world that appears insensitive to those who may be different to the accepted norm. In a large, poor family, struggling to eke out a living on the wrong side of Limerick, Martin is the youngest of triplets. He is the runt of the litter, the outsider, scorned and derided, abused by his father, intimidated by his teacher and frequently banished to the coal shed, where his only companions are two dogs Major and Rex. When they are taken away for trying to defend Marty from the cruel teacher, Marty decides to escape. He seeks shelter in a tunnel and then a barn where dogs shelter from the storm. it is here, surrounded by the dogs, who become his companions, that Marty discovers his pack. It is here that he will no longer be beaten for eating the Blackforest Cake or called Mr. Stupid by his teacher or bullied and mocked by his schoolmates.It is here that Marty discovers the meaning of the tribe with himself as their leader. It is here that his life has meaning in the company of canine companions and protectors .

Director Andy Packer’s direction is playful, opening up the Thomas Edmonds Opera Studio in Adelaide’s Wayville Showgrounds to a cabaret style production, packed full of surprises, with walls that magically open to reveal the kitchen in one corner, the railway bridge tunnel in another and the barn where Marty meets his pack in another, A central platform provides a stage for episodes in Marty’s  life and the fourth corner is occupied by the setting for the Harp and the Hound Irish pub. The musicians also manipulate the shadow puppet dogs of various breeds and sizes as well as the fearful shadow that Marty must cast aside to relinquish his fear. 

 Packer opens up the area to give full rein to Irish actor Burroughs creation of his character. Burroughs gives a virtuoso performance taking on all the roles as Marty the abused child, the brutal father, the caring but helpless mother and the sarcastic teacher. He assumes each character with physical nuance, darting through the audience with stolen loaves and milk, huddling in the tunnel, comforting his dogs and switching characters with alacrity and feeling the soothing comfort of the dogs nestled in his arms. Burroughs becomes every child who is maltreated and misunderstood, every adult who eventually is able to discover their true self and live out their lives on their terms. McKenna eventually travels to Australia where he lives in Nimbin, home to many who have come to find what they  are searching for. The journey is interspersed with Lisa O’Neill’s  engaging songs that mirror Marty’s experience. Every aspect of The Boy Who Talked to Dogs reflects the tightly knit ensemble of actor, musicians, puppeteers and production team. 

At times the promenade use of the space by the performers and the balance of music and dialogue made it difficult to catch the words in a packed theatre space. This is a minor quibble with an excellent production that told a fascinating story with imagination and a sensitivity towards those who are still searching for their place in whatever pack will give them the hope and the satisfaction that Martinn McKenna was fortunate enough to find. Falconer concludes the entertainment with the true answer to McKenna’s initial riddle for it is the answer to that riddle that McKenna has discovered on his journey; What does a piece of coal become when applied to by severe pressure over aeons?, The Boy Who Talked to Dogs is an absolute delight and a show that will warm the hearts of young and old alike.