Callum Walker’s The Black Dog on my Sofa has a lot to say about depression, and for the most part it does so in original and interesting ways, tackling the issue from a fresh, non-preachy perspective, which will no doubt help some people better understand the better.
Essentially a sequence of metaphors exploring various aspects of depression those not familiar with the disease may not be aware of (lethargy, lack of motivation, inability to sleep, and many more), the play in no way suffers from its lack of a traditional story arch, tracing the degeneration of its main character, Meg, played by Grace Williams, perfectly.
Williams’ performance is shaky at first but she quickly grows into her role, showing an extraordinary subtlety of expression marking quite magnificently Meg’s descent into depression throughout the course of the play.
“Beth Wilson…is one of the best actors to have graced the New Theatre stage”
Though she is not given much variety to work with, Beth Wilson’s mere presence and delivery continues to prove that she is one of the best actors to have graced the New Theatre stage. Elsewhere, Rose Edgeworth (‘Lucy’) and Will Berrington (‘John’) give believable enough performances, with the latter providing the only true big laugh of the play. With the otherwise serious character leaning back smugly into the titular couch and asking to an unsuspecting audience, ‘Do you mind if I vape?’ – a shallow joke poking fun at society which gains all of its humour from Berrington’s delivery of the line, perfectly opposing the traditional gentlemanly atmosphere he otherwise exudes.
“Many of the jokes, which are few and far between, fall flat”
Indeed, many of the jokes, which are few and far between, fall flat, and those who look towards The Black Dog on my Sofa anticipating a high point of dark comedy will be disappointed, and the dialogue can seem a bit forced when the characters threaten to move into more philosophical territory (see the awkward ‘It’s weird, sleeping over without the sleeping. I’m just – over’).
However, generally Walker’s writing is tight enough, with one particular line (‘We’re a problem-solving machine…’) proving that he is a master of foreshadowing, justifying the play’s highly effective ending which may have otherwise seemed abrupt and melodramatic.
“Walker proves his competence as a director as well as writer”
The closing sequence is tense and moving, and Walker proves his competence as a director as well as writer in the imagery he creates through the use of proxemics, especially when multiple characters are sitting on the titular sofa; with so many of the visual images employing attention, this is a play which will haunt audiences long after the lights come on.
“The play perfectly evokes the feeling of suffocation associated with depression”
And boy, will you be glad when the lights are on. The play perfectly evokes the feeling of suffocation associated with depression, and while some of the metaphors seem to fit uncomfortably with the rest of the narrative, generally The Black Dog on the Sofa expresses the illness surprisingly accurately on a theatrical stage. Though Williams’ performance generates most of the emotion in this production, depression is smartly externalised in every aspect of the play, from the set-pieces discussing Meg’s lack of motivation to the set design; with empty crisp packets and unread books, as well as the permanent semi-darkness, helping to form a visual representation of Meg’s head.
“Go and see The Black Dog on the Sofa”
If the enthusiasm that this play deserves hasn’t come across in this review, it is because of the seriousness of the subject matter. Go and see The Black Dog on the Sofa. It is a play which will hopefully help facilitate understanding and discussion about a still oft-misunderstood illness, and even if it weren’t for the seriousness of Walker’s message (you won’t forget the final act in a hurry), it would still be a fascinating curio, worth watching for the atmosphere and William’s performance alone. It is not without flaws, but its flaws, especially awkward humour, help add to the sense of unease created throughout.
This is a play that I can’t help but feel needed to be made, and now that it has, it deserves to be seen.
7/10 – Great show but room for improvement
Image courtesy of the Nottingham New Theatre
‘The Black Dog On The Sofa is running at the Nottingham New Theatre until Tuesday 21st March. For more information and where to find tickets see here.