by Douglas Carter Beane: Garrick Theatre, London
Any film buff or, more particularly, any gossip-column reader knows about the rumoured secrecy of certain Hollywood actors and their sexuality. Names (unmentionable here) are bandied about regarding their personal preferences and apparently, if the truth were revealed, how their careers would suffer. Douglas Carter Beane approaches this scenario in his comedy at the Garrick Theatre The Little Dog Laughed.
Young actor Mitchell (Rupert Friend) has a bright future in Hollywood. However, he is gay. Mitchell’s agent Diane (Tamsin Greig) fears public knowledge of his sexuality will be the ruin of his career – and a disaster for her. Therefore the actor must remain in the closet. Unfortunately her client falls in love with rent-boy Alex (Harry Lloyd) and wants to make his sexuality public. In a parallel plot agent Diane is in negotiations for Mitchell to star in a movie about two gay men. In order to make her client a movie star, however, Diane insists that the screenwriter changes the script to a heterosexual ending. This is life imitating art.
This is also mere sit-com. Despite occasionally witty moments the script has very little endearing qualities. The characters lack depth. The love affair between the two men is feeble to the point of emotional inertia. There is no scope for empathy because Carter Beane creates a relationship that is more about the men being gay and having gay-sex rather than creating a story about two people falling in love and being torn apart by Hollywood’s hypocrisy.
All is not lost. The evening is single-handedly saved by the master-of-ceremonies performance of Tamsin Greig. Agent Diane has manipulative charm that Milton’s Satan would have been proud of and Grieg portrays her exquisitely. She shows natural composure and comic timing and revels in her omnipotent scheming. Just as Diane controls the life of her client, Greig controls her monologues to the audience with calculated charisma.
However, the young actors are uncomfortable with the fast paced dialogue. They shout far too much, speak in a monotonous tone for large sections, and mistake a sharp response to cue lines for mere speed, firing their lines at each other like paparazzi flash bulbs at a film premiere – with no less irritation. Director Jamie Lloyd must take some responsibility.
There is a certain irony perhaps in that a theatre production set within the movie industry has actors vocally inadequate. It is so irritating that we eagerly wait for the return on stage of Tamsin Greig.
Gemma Arterton as Ellen, Alex’s girlfriend, admirably attempts warmth and tries to explore emotional depth but is forced to repeat the acting device of reaching the precipice of tears before holding back. Friend and Lloyd suffer for character inadequacies and we therefore have little regard for their doomed relationship.
Carter Beane’s strength is in satire and he cleverly evokes a cynical view of Hollywood and the concept of the film star. This is evident in his smart denouement when puppet-master Diane adroitly manipulates the final outcome. Just as she slyly persuades the young protégés to follow her preferred conclusion, so too she persuades the unseen writer to rewrite the screenplay to her specification. Just as she gets her ‘straight’ finale in art so does she in life as Mitchell, in return for fame and fortune, continues to deny his true self and ends up marrying Ellen.
The Little Dog Laughed could have tackled the world of hypocrisy and homophobia with more bravura. Instead this is a shallow comedy in which we are left rooting for the character that perpetuates the problem.