Mary Rachel Brown’s poignant comedy-drama peers into the semi-closed world of greyhound racing and into the lives of a family for whom the dog track is everything good and bad in the world.
Old Errol (Danny Adcock), once a leading light of the Illawara dog racing fraternity, is a pariah now, a cheat and a gambler who has dragged his family to its lowest ebb. Son Cess (Richard Sydenham) hasn’t fallen far from the tree in most respects but he retains something Errol lost years ago – a passion for the sport. He also has a gift for spotting canine talent.
The black sheep is Jimmy (Jamie Oxenbould). He’s seen too much of the dark side of the dishlickers over the years (Brown touches lightly on the sport’s less admirable aspects) but even he can’t escape its clutches entirely. He has found a place for himself driving the mechanical lure at the Dapto track operated by Errol’s life-long nemesis, Arnold Denny (Noel Hodda).
Almost as soon as we get to know and like the old bastard, Errol dies in his armchair, leaving substantial debt. There literally isn’t even a hole to bury him in. Cess and Jimmy need money fast and the only asset they have is their beloved dog, Boy Named Sue, a potential champion and a way out of this mess – that is, if the boys can keep it.
Like Daniel Keene’s earlier play Silent Partner (which was made into an underrated film by Alkinos Tsilimidos), The Dapto Chaser is a sympathetic yet unflinching look at a sporting subculture and at people whose disadvantage is entrenched. In the end, it’s less about dogs and racing and more about competing visions. Cess believes in sticking to what he knows and with the community. Jimmy, who can turn a favourite into an also-ran with a twist of the wrist, knows that, in the end, it’s a mug’s game. You have to walk away to get ahead.
Unhappy circumstances and poor choices abound then, but Brown wrings humour from every twist of the plot and the play glows in this well acted and thoroughly realised production directed by Glynn Nicholas.
Georgia Hopkins’ set offers an economical evocation of poverty and male slovenliness and Toby Knyvett lights it quite beautifully. Sound designer Daryl Wallis injects a note of trackside excitement into the theatre with the metallic ring of the flying lure.
Adcock’s portrait of rat cunning is a delight. Sydenham locates the lost soul in Cess, a man whose violent desire to prove himself a winner is offset by an almost childlike devotion to his dog. Oxenbould makes us feel for Jimmy’s plight and Hodda is subtly repellent as Denny. The all-important dog, Boy Named Sue, is made present through simple mime and panting noises from the actors. Like everything else in this production, it’s very effective.