Give this Dogwasher some love [by James Wenley]
In the same week that the Mary Poppins juggernaught opens at The Civic, there’s another Musical up the road playing at The Basement. The work of Toi Whakaari acting graduates Adrian Hooke and Hayley Brown, The Likes of a Loveless Dogwasher is a charmingly lo-fi and accessible Musical comedy. What they lack in flying nannies and dancing chimney sweeps, they make up for in pluck, multiple character changes, and literal scene stealing crew members.
Delaney (Hayley Brown) works at a pet shop as a receptionist and dog-washer. Frozen by panic and the need to vomit whenever she goes to talk to someone, her life has been no social walk in the park; she prefers the anonymity of google and wiki-answers. She’s scarred by a high-school humiliation, shown in flashback, where she makes a fool of herself and awarded the ‘most likely to be single at 38’. When the invitation to the reunion arrives, she’s determined to arrive with a date in arm. Only how?
Appearing for almost all of the stage time, Brown carries Delaney with great energy, quirk, and cute as a button smile. There’s something really delightful about her natural kiwi accented singing. She’s primarily supported by Adrian Hooke and Kieran Foster, always ready to leap into the scene with increasingly cheesy dance moves, who play a variety of roles between them including love interests, innapropiate parents and school jocks. Hooke has a tendency towards overplaying the character roles, but his shy and contained Sam, a fellow Pet Store worker, is pitched perfectly and gets many ‘awww’ moments from the audience. Foster nails the high notes and character switches.
Taking place on a largely blank stage apart from piano and blue wall, set items like chairs and a dog washing sink are moved on by Leroy Lakamu, wearing a matching blue body suit. While at first he is a clever solution to set changes – he gives us a knowing look as he comes on and off – he continues to embed himself in the action, hilariously joining in and getting a few song moments of his own. Stage Hand Catherine Croft, in the more traditional blacks, also cameos as a devious computer virus.
On her quest for a reunion date Delaney enters the worlds of speed and internet dating, allowing the boys a number of rapid fire character gags involving less than desirable male partners.
The Music, written and composed by Hooke, is largely a vehicle for the humour and clever lyrics rather than the melodies themselves. There are pastiches of different styles like rap and vaudeville, and the odd derivative melody line from popular songs creep in, but the songs are rarely distinctive themselves. There are some great numbers though, the inappropriate singing carnival hustlers in the Speed Dating song, ‘Wink Fever’ as Delaney gets caught in the internet dating, and the big production number (or as ‘big’ as The Basement allows) ‘The Real Delaney’ where she imagines herself as a Russian spy. Unlike say recent NZ small scale comedy Musical Bombs Away, whose lyrics and tunes worked perfectly together to the extent that I can still remember much of them, Dogwasher’s tunes don’t linger.
There are no surprises in how this story ends up – following the classic romantic love plot so beloved of the Musical genre – but there are plenty of off-the-blue-wall surprises to keep you entertained along the way. Brown balances the comedy and sentiment just right to allow us to care about her outcome, nudged along by the outrageous inclusion of one of New Zealand’s television icons (genius guys!).
In one of the final songs there is a plea for Creative New Zealand cash – they hope to tour it next year. I hope they do, while there’s more work to do on the music and story beats, it’s an in-offensive and lovingly kiwi heart-warmer. I defy anyone not to be won over by the Dogwasher’s charm.
The Likes of a Loveless Dogwasher is presented by Talking Mute and plays at The Basement until 20th October. More details see The Basement.