The Little Dog Laughed
First produced in New York in 2006, this play by Douglas Carter Beane has something of a pedigree, being a Tony Award nominee. The play is a satire, or lampoon if you prefer that term. The focus of ridicule in this instance is Hollywood. More precisely, it's Tinseltown's attitude to gay leading men (or the lack of them) that is the target of the satire. Apparently, according to an article in the programme at least, there are no openly gay leading actors in Hollywood. I have to admit that that fact had escaped me, but it's not the kind of thing I'm going to lose any sleep over – the sexual inclinations of Hollywood actors is not exactly top of my list of interests. It does, however, provide the basis of an excellent comedy, that pulls few (if any) punches.
'The Little Dog Laughed' has four characters: Mitchell, an up-and-coming film actor; Alex, a rent boy who says he's not gay; Ellen, Alex's (sort of) girlfriend; and Diane, Mitchell's agent.
It's Diane who actually has the lead in the play and kicks off the proceedings with a speech to the audience which has all the hallmarks of stand-up comedy. Blunt, manipulative and cynical (among many other dubious qualities) Diane uses any and every verbal and psychological weapon at her disposal to protect her client and get her own way. She posses a monstrous armoury of scathing put-downs and verbal abuse which she deploys with a relish that is almost frightening in its intensity. For example, when asked for 'her word' she says: 'My Word? You're asking a whore for her cherry!' And when the suggestion is made that she give a writer 'final cut', she responds: 'I'd rather give firearms to small children'.
Mitchell is a film actor who is gay, but pretends to be heterosexual. When we first meet him, he's drunk and alone in his hotel room when Alex arrives from 'Manhattan Rent Boys'. Alex says he's straight and that he only works as a rent boy for the money. He has a girlfriend called Ellen. But as the relationship between Mitchell and Alex intensifies, Ellen is side-lined, at least for a while. Meanwhile, agent Diane has to persuade a writer to re-write his script so that it's suitably sanitised for Mitchell to glory in the lead, but she also has to keep her client's sexual preferences under wraps.
Director Jamie Lloyd keeps everything buzzing along very nicely. The comic timing is near-perfect, the action fluid and pacey, and the laughs come at regular intervals, though it's not quite a non-stop giggle from start to finish. But there are plenty of those moments when you want to cringe and roar with laughter almost at the same time, and some of the lines are very, very funny. The ensemble cast work extremely well together, but it's Tamsin Greig's performance as the vixen-like Diane which really makes the play. If comedy's your thing, you'll be hard to please indeed if you don't like this play. Hugely enjoyable and entertaining.
"Enjoyably breezy and knowing production."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"There’s a point at which bright becomes brittle, and another at which smart becomes smartass, and there are moments when Douglas Carter Beane’s bright, smart and often enjoyable play crosses both boundaries."
Benedict Nightingale for The Times
"The play may be too showbizzy for some tastes but, behind its Manhattan waspishness, lurks a general truth: while Hollywood may be the global dream-factory, it still lies about its operatives' sex-lives."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"No one could claim this is a deep comedy, but it is smart, tart and bang on the money."
The Daily Telegraph
"There are moments when Carter Beane’s writing is piercingly funny."
Henry Hitchings's for The Evening Standard
"But for glorious Tamsin Greig, the West End's latest American import would be a disaster."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"Ferociously funny...wildly witty."
Mark Shenton for The Stage