From the National Theatre of China comes Two Dogs; two dishevelled dogs who travel from the country to the city in search of fortune and a better life – two dogs who deliver a fusion of slapstick, sketch and black humour interjected with impersonations, word play, poetry and song. There’s monologues, opinions and poetry that ricochet from one form to another exploring “echoes of happiness” and includes extremely brief yet astute social commentary on Australia, where “our coffee is with soy, our BBQs are formal and our Prime Ministers are temporary.” And all the while asking, “Is this the life we want to lead? Eat well, dress well?”
I came to Two Dogs completely unfamiliar with the acclaimed reputation of its director, Meng Jinghui, its performers Liu Xiaoye and Han Pengyi or the production itself. But what I had learned through the Melbourne Festival programme definitely piqued my curiosity – it’s one of the most popular works in China and has been performed over a 1,000 times. I wanted in.
I also knew that it would be performed in Mandarin with English subtitles. What I didn’t know however, was that those subtitles wouldn’t necessarily match the action or simply go missing-in-action; substituted by the phrase “actors improvising” for large chunks of the performance.
At 2 hours and 15 minutes with no interval, I was pretty much lost and at times a tad frustrated (not enough to walk out mind you, unlike a few) but rather, determined to stick with this “comedic mayhem” for the cultural exchange and possible enlightenment.
What I did understand was that the overwhelming majority of the audience were Mandarin speaking and clearly revelling in the experience; these Two Dogs had definitely connected with their young audience through irony, humour or poignancy and were duly rewarded with laughter, cheering and clapping. Closing with an absurd punk rock version of the Beatles “Yellow Submarine” (a children’s song reverting back to the simple pleasures of life), left me thinking that’s probably what the Two Dogs wanted all along, just minus the abject poverty.
Melbourne Festival 2016 presents
National Theatre of China
Director Meng Jinghui
Venue: Merlyn Theatre | The Coopers Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank VIC
Dates: 6 – 9 October 2016
Tickets: $52 – $28
Performed in Mandarin with English surtitles