The Dog/The Cat review (Belvoir, Sydney)

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Watching Brendan Cowell and Lally Katz’s rom com double bill (with added pets) is like eating a CWA-standard double layer sponge cake. It’s a sweet, light and fluffy guilty pleasure crafted with great skill and love.

In Cowell’s The Dog, Ben (Xavier Samuel), a struggling writer in his 30s, meets Miracle (Andrea Demetriades), a university lecturer also in her 30s, in an off-leash park when their two dogs — Jerry Seinfeld and Lola — start humping. There’s chemistry between the owners too, although it takes a little bit longer to develop.

But it’s soon revealed that Miracle already knows Jerry. She’s met him with his other owner, Ben’s flat mate and former best friend Marcus (Benedict Hardie), and there’s plenty of chemistry there too. At this point in their lives, Ben and Marcus have gone down completely different tracks: Ben has just lost his wife and is struggling to pull things together while Marcus’ career is on a sharp rise. Which one will she pick? Will she actually pick?

In Katz’s The Cat, Alex (Demetriades) and Albert (Hardie) are in the final stages of their divorce proceedings and are about to move out of their shared home when they realise there’s one thing they haven’t factored into their decision — their cat (Samuel). Alex and Albert both get on with their lives and find new partners, but it soon becomes clear that the cat isn’t too happy with the situation. And he’s been getting ideas from The Parent Trap (both the Hayley Mills original and Lindsay Lohan remake). Alex and Albert have both underestimated just how much this feline knows about their lives.

The plays run for about 40 minutes each and pack in plenty of laughs with classic awkward rom com exchanges and up-to-the-minute references — Cowell on Tinder, Katz on Beyonce and Jay-Z, and both on capoeira. Unsurprisingly, Katz takes more whimsical turns than Cowell does (there is a talking cat in her work, after all), but both writers work from the base of rom com tropes.

Outgoing artistic director Ralph Myers has directed this production, which feels like a parting gift of joy and heart. The work is performed with no set — just bare black walls — but there’s enough warmth in the performances and the writing to make the space feel very homely. Myers allows the comedy to emerge naturally from the truth of the situations created by the playwrights. It never feels like the cast is working for any of the laughs, but they come thick and fast.

Andrea Demetriades is radiant as both the aptly named Miracle of The Dog and the charmingly awkward Alex in The Cat. She’s excellent in one particular scene where she sits alone with her cat, and explains the benefits of single life: mainly that they can now watch all of Battlestar Galactica together, undisturbed.

Benedict Hardie is brilliant as the desperate-to-impress Marcus in The Dog, while he brings a much sadder but sympathetic quality to Albert in The Cat. Xavier Samuel is perfectly self-defeating as Ben in The Dog, but he steals the show as a rapping cat in The Cat — a touch which only Katz would think of, realised brilliantly with Stefan Gregory’s composition.

Really, this is how you do a double bill of two short plays — they’re thematically linked (and subtly linked in several other ways) but the individual voices of the playwrights come through loud and clear. You’ll feel more than a little spoiled after this treat.

The Dog/The Cat is at the Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir until July 26. Featured image by Brett Boardman

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