Against the timeless backdrop of Gunaikurnai Country and the wider Australian landscape, Dogged takes its audience through multiple dimensions and moments in history, setting a new bar for the distance a journey inside a theatre can take you in a single night.
On the hilly plains of Gunaikurnai Mountain Country, a lone Dingo mother searches for her pups. Shrouded in dim lighting, the stage expands beyond the edges of the soapbox as Dingo (Sandy Greenwood) steps past its corners and snatches a packet of chips from an audience member.
‘Gotta build up my strength.
Find my little ones.’
Written by Yorta Yorta/Gunaikurnai playwright Andrea James and community theatre producer Catherine Ryan, Dogged explores the complex and profound relationship between Country, animals, history and people. Most notably, it tests the boundaries of communication between audience, animals and humans through James’ creation of a rich and troubled character in Dingo, which personifies Gunaikurnai history and wider Aboriginal perspectives.
Exploring deeper narratives of colonial Australia’s sacrilege against Aboriginal land, animals and people, James uses the character of Dingo to create a conversation between present-day Australia, through the character of Woman (Blazey Best), and Gunaikurnai’s immemorial history.
With direct, witty interaction, and layered monologues that travel throughout different time periods, Dogged is skillful at using dialogue to convey the play’s themes.
Lighting director Verity Hampson navigates a mostly dark and shadowed setting with targeted and soft lighting that matches the intensity of each scene flawlessly. Shifting colours to depict notions of violence, coupled with Steve Toulmin’s impeccable sound design enables an immersive experience.
As Dingo interacts with the character of Dog (Anthony Yangoyan), who is mostly non-verbal in the first 30 minutes of the play, the lighting and sound shape the story without the audience feeling the absence of dialogue in his scenes.
At times, the exaggeration of Yangoyan’s performance breaks the seal between stage and audience. The use of the space beyond its physical barriers and on to the stairs and audience walkway expands the traditional need of a strong, invisible separation between the two entities.
The storyline between Woman and Dingo is an obvious reference to the colonisation of Aboriginal land, particularly in the introduction where Woman sees the Dingo as a threat against the safety of herself and Dog. Calling dingoes “fucking killer scum”, she references how the animal has terrorised and killed sheep on her family’s farm. This directly plays into the very real construct of how a native species is demonised for preying on an introduced species.
It also references the domino damaging effects of colonisation in creating a scarcity of food and disabling trust between humans and animals. This plays out multiple times in the story, notably when Dingo is made aware of how Woman, who represents both an introduced species and wider colonial Australia, stakes a claim to Aboriginal land by killing beings who have lived in an environmentally-balanced ecosystem since time immemorial. Dingo says:
‘See how she takes their lives, these dogs?
Then takes their skins?’
James has cleverly used the character of Dingo to make a wider statement of the effects of colonisation, and in doing so, created a beautiful parallel between Aboriginal animals and humans.
The story references themes of Aboriginal resistance, white entitlement and colonial violence throughout: Dingo uses Woman for food and shelter to gather strength to continue searching for her pups; Woman reaches out to another Dingo pup towards the end to process the guilt she is feeling as a result of understanding Dingo’s colonial pain; Dingo mourns the loss of her pups who were killed by sport hunters.
Greenwood, Best and Yangoyan’s performances hold stellar power, feeding off each other’s intricate movements and inflections to seamlessly progress the play. With comedic relief woven throughout this dramatic, semi-fictional perspective, it packs a punch in delivering a powerful story with traditional theatre elements hand-in-hand.
Dogged is not to be missed. Enjoy the two-hour immersive gothic-horror meets Australian bush experience, and hold each segment of dialogue with reverence.