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Hound Dog
Published on Tuesday, 06 August 2013

3 stars

Sweet Grassmarket (venue website)
2-11 Aug, 4:00pm-5:05pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

Over the last few years, actor-playwright Ginny Davis has earned herself a reputation for delivering witty reflections on family life. Her popular “Ruth Rich saga” now runs to four much-lauded instalments, but with Hound Dog she’s tried something different – handing over the stage to a full cast of actors, and stepping back herself into the writer’s role. Her script tells a tale inspired by a real-life experience: on a recent holiday in Crete, she rescued a dog from an abusive owner, bringing it home to live with her ageing Labrador and the rest of her middle-class family.

And, as it’s portrayed in the play at least, that family could barely be more stereotypically conventional.  There’s the quietly sensible father, the big-hearted emotionally-driven mum, the fine upstanding son, and the rebellious daughter – whose feisty side is finally quelled by the feel of a new-born in her arms.  Yes, some people will throw up their hands in horror at such an old-fashioned set of gender roles, but there are plenty of others who’ll celebrate seeing the traditional family unit reflected on a Fringe stage.

That unit includes the dogs.  I hesitate to spoil the following surprise, but I’m really not doing the play justice if I fail to mention it: the dogs are played by human actors, in furry costumes, who do all the things that real dogs do (including sniffing the other actors’ feet and eating chocolate drops directly off the floor).  I admit I groaned inwardly when I realised what was going to happen, but I’d completely changed my mind by halfway through.  There’s a kind of carefree joy in seeing two people play the parts of two quarrelling canines – and the whole thing’s done with a liberating touch of irony, the occasional acknowledgement that that there’s something really quite peculiar happening on the stage.

So this play is perfectly lovely.  But the gently bumbling tenor of the plot is carried to a fault by the acting: even the dramatic, emotionally-charged finale is played at a surprisingly low key.  Perhaps they’re concerned about overpowering their relatively intimate venue, but they really could afford to turn it up a notch or two.  And I felt the script often needed to get on with it a bit more – some points were repeated two or three times, with the first half in particular feeling excessively long.

A tighter and pacier delivery would help the humour to shine, which matters, because there’s plenty of humour to enjoy.  The script is filled with a multitude of gently funny lines – observations on the nuances of family life, which anyone at all can understand.  There are some serious themes, too, about finding the time to rub along with the people we love, and while those thoughts could be developed with a little more subtlety they’re heartwarming and life-affirming just the same.  So there’s a lot that’s loveable about Hound Dog; but it perhaps needs to be trimmer and fitter to do justice to its undoubted pedigree.

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