Monday, February 6, 2023

Dogfight. Reviewed by Alanna Maclean

Alexander Clubb and Taylor Paliaga  in "Dogfight"


Dogfight. Directed by Grant Pegg and Kelly Roberts. Musical director Caleb Campbell. Choreography by Nathan Rutups. Dramatic P.roductions. Gungahlin Theatre. Closed Feb 4.

THIS is a refreshingly sensitive musical full of melancholy and a sense of the darker undercurrents of the 1960s.

Based on the 1991 film, it follows the story of a group of US Marines on the eve of heading in 1963 to Vietnam. 

Like many of us in Australia at the time they probably couldn’t find the country on a map. 

As part of entering into manhood the soldiers think it is appropriate to have a competition to see who can bring the ugliest woman to a pre departure nightclub event. Pte Eddie Birdlace (Alexander Chubb) persuades Rose, (Taylor Paliaga) working in a diner, to be his ‘date’, without, of course, revealing the terms. Rose is just as deprived of a decent education and options in life as he is but is well on the way to thinking for herself, lonely and honest, working in her mother’s diner but guitar to hand, following the folk singers of the times and their ideas.

Eddie has to pass through Vietnam and loss to reach any understanding. 

Dramatic Productions’ take on all of this, under the direction of Grant Pegg and Kelly Roberts is a splendid one. 

Chris Zuber’s set is abstract with a suggestion of San Fransisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, towering above the ordinary lives of the characters. with bench seats on movable platforms swooping in and out to suggest the diner, a bus, a bridge. Carefully selective lighting by Craig Muller and Grant Pegg aids the mood. 

The small orchestra up the back under musical director Caleb Campbell is both unobtrusive and powerful. Jennie Norberry’s costume designs catch something of the transition from the teased up hairdos of the 60s to the flower power caftans as the 70s approach. (The mini skirt never quite penetrates this neck of the woods) And Nathan Rutups’ sensitive and thoughtful choreography underpins the feelings of the piece. 

Will Collett and Grayson Woodham as Eddie’s two army mates provide solid support, Kit Berry as Marcy, only in the ‘dogfight’ for the cash, is a wildly comic contrast to Rose, Pippin Carroll relishes his spotlight time as the Lounge Singer and Kirrily Cornwell is touching as Rose’s Mama. Read the biographies in the programme - the rest of the cast has a range of experience that supports the depth of the piece. 

But it’s Chubb and Paliaga who carry the heart of the show and its challenges with intelligence and feeling and great singing. A good opening to the year.