Theatre review: In the Shadow of the Black Dog | Ticker, Assembly Rooms / Underbelly - Cowgate, Edinburgh

In The Shadow of the Black Dog, Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
In The Shadow of the Black Dog, Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
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Daniel Hallissey and Tom Machell tell stories of masculinity and emotional repression.

In the Shadow of the Black Dog, Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, Until 23 August * * *

Ticker, Underbelly, Cowgate (Venue 61)

Ticker, Underbelly, Cowgate (Venue 61)

Ticker, Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh, Until 25 August * *

Alquist’s convinced he’s dying. His worried mum wants him to ultrasound his testicles, but a doctor talks about stress. A best friend has died and he just can’t fix it. He wonders where men go to grieve, or how they text friends to say that they’re lonely, not just to meet in a pub. “The idea of what a man is supposed to be,” he says, “it doesn’t work.”

Alquist gets everything but the kitchen sink thrown at him in this tale, with trouble at every mill: dead-end romance, parents drunk when they named him, vicars drunk at funerals, a terrifying chase by two knife-wielding maniacs on bikes, and a startling sex scene where he obliges by trying to be kinky, all to no avail.

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Daniel Hallissey, who wrote and performs this solo show, delivers sharp characterisations with lovely delivery, of a man bouncing off the rocks of failed relationships, and the not-very-supporting cast in his life. In the Shadow of the Black Dog ends with an earnest call for men to open up, urging them that showing vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.

Ticker, at the Underbelly, is another solo show of a men misfiring, without the emotional resources to handle the loss of someone close. This time it ends with an appeal for Cardiac Risk in the Young, a charity working to combat sudden death from undiagnosed heart disease.

Spencer is raging at us, and everyone else. He’s boiling over with memories of the American woman who became his first proper girlfriend. As her death in suspect circumstances unfolds, Spencer’s temper is so hot, he head-butts her mother at the funeral. But there’s little clue to his past or provenance, the roots of his rage.

Written and performed by Tom Machell, “toxic aggression” are the buzz words on the programme entry. “I get so angry and I have no idea why,” Spencer declares. For all the good intentions of this piece, it didn’t provide an answer.

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