The Royal Court Theatre presents
Lucky Dog ( Archived )
By Leo Butler
14 May - 12 June 2004
Jerwood Theatre Upstairs
“Don’t worry about your father and me. Quite happy to keep ourselves occupied for one year. Up to my eyes with the bloody turkey as it is. One year won’t hurt.”
Eddie and Sue settle down for Christmas dinner. The wine is poured, the crackers are pulled and the weather forecast’s snow. But the dog won’t eat her giblets and the telephone keeps ringing.
Leo Butler’s previous plays for the Royal Court are MADE OF STONE (2000 Royal Court Young Writers Festival) and REDUNDANT – winner of the 2001 George Devine Award.
Cast includes: Linda Bassett, Liam Mills and Alan Williams.
It is not often that one hears the dulcet strains of White Christmas and Away in a Manger in sunny mid-May. Such unseasonable tunes are well worth braving, however, if they accompany a drama that hits as many right notes as Lucky Dog.
“Yer missed the Queen speech. Yer didn’t miss much. Yer know what she like,” says Sue Webber to her husband Eddie as they sit down to a lugubrious Christmas dinner for two in Leo Butler’s searing yet achingly poignant examination of family life turned sour.
The Webbers’ son is passing the festivities with his fiance’s folks and this absence at the table looms as large as Banquo’s ghost chez Macbeth.
Despite Sue’s valiant attempt at the forced cheerfulness of small talk, it soon becomes apparent that this late middle-aged couple are living completely separate lives under one small roof.
It is what is not said, the silences laden with frustration and tension, that is just as powerful as the spoken word in James Macdonald’s sensitive production. The unseen also has a palpable impact, as the eponymous ageing canine becomes the focus of thwarted parental love.
The key character in Butler trio
the Webbers are joined temporarily by their neighbours’ truculent young son, Brett is Sue.
Linda Bassett gives an East is East-rivalling performance as a woman embattled by the myriad small cruelties of the everyday. It is impossible not to flinch as another tiny instance of marital neglect strikes this kind-hearted person with the force of a shard ice. Alan Williams’s would-be adulterer, Eddie, is a master of the laconic phrase, and Liam Mills has just the right shrug-shouldered demeanour as Brett.
Only in the incongruous final scenes does Butler writing, and plotting, falter. Overall, those who name him Most Promising Playwright for his 2001 work Redundant should be delighted with their prognostication.
EVENING STANDARD, Fiona Mountford, Wednesday 19 May 2004
Leo Butler must have attended some grim family Christmas dinners in his time, if his fine new play is anything to judge by. The opening scenes of Lucky Dog allows us to eavesdrop on the conversation of Eddie and Sue, a Yorkshire couple in their late fifties, as they plough their way through their turkey and sprouts if it can be called a conversation. Every effort by Sue to introduce a new subject is met by a stony monosyllable from her husband, a man who appears to have been hewn from granite. Butler has a fine ear for this sort of thing and their exchanges are both comic and tragic as the play reveals the desolation in the marriage.
Gradually the picture is filled in: their son has left home; their dog needs putting down; they sleep in separate rooms; Eddie visits another woman more often than he ought to. This is a couple bereft in their empty nest, unable to negotiate this crisis in their marriage. You keep expecting something violent to happen, but it doesn’t as Butler’s portrayal of domestic horror is subtler than that. He shows us how cruel the simple withdrawal of love can be. When Eddie says to Sue “Yer hair’s fallin out”, you feel like hitting him for her. When Sue invites round the sullen boy next door, who tells her lemon squash tastes like pee, you feel like hitting him for her. Butler draws Sue loneliness with compassion, but he also conveys her determination. And, gradually, she breaks through the surly resentment of the two males.
In a play so poignantly focused on loss and neglect, the unsaid, the unseen and the offstage play a huge part. James Macdonald’s production expertly teases every ounce of meaning from the couple strained dialogue and heavy silences. Alan Williams is infuriating as the self-pitying Eddie; Liam Mills is splendidly sulky as the boy-next-door and Linda Bassett is first-rate as Sue, painfully cheerful and resilient in the face of so much contempt. This is not a big play, and its change of key at the end is awkward and unconvincing, but its quiet concern is refreshing. 4 stars FINANCIAL TIMES, Sarah Hemming, Thursday 20 May 2004
I first read Leo Butler’s play on a flight to Bucharest. Even in the upholstered limbo of a passenger jet, the characters leaped off the page. And, seeing James Macdonald’s fine production at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, I am still astonished by the 28-year-old Butler profound understanding of marital solitude.
Nothing much happens on the surface. Yet underneath a lot goes on as Sue and Eddie, a Sheffield couple in their late 50s, share a solitary Christmas dinner. Their son Danny, we learn, is in London with his future bride and her posh family, but Eddie refuses to answer his calls. Starved of love by her distracted husband, Sue craves filial devotion, which she tries to solicit from the sullen 10-year-old next door. Just when you think all is lost, however, Butler gives you a glimpse of a future alive with possibilities.
The opening scenes are filled with a laconic Pinterish sadness: even Sue’s banal enquiry about Boxing Day “Nothinplanned?” carries extraordinary resonance once you realise Eddie is seeing another woman. But Butler’s real theme emerges when Sue announces that she’s reading Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time: a novel about a couple whose baby daughter is abducted. What Butler unerringly pins down is the way the loss of a child grown-up sonxposes the frailties of a loveless marriage.
The acting is as delicately observant as the writing. Linda Bassett is superb as Sue: she conveys not just her sexual and emotional deprivation but also her buried anger, shockingly exposed when she slaps the 10-year-old for rejecting her present of a Sheffield Wednesday shirt.
Alan Williams as the taciturn Eddie and Liam Mills as the sulky kid are equally good and Jean Kalman has devised a highly effective set: one that suggests Sue and Eddie have painted themselves into a corner, but one that springs its own theatrical surprise. There are many noisier plays around but few capture so well the marital stated summed up by Beckett as “alone together, so much shared.” 4 stars THE GUARDIAN, Michael Billington, Thursday 20 May 2004
JERWOOD THEATRE UPSTAIRS
Tickets 7.50 – 16
Monday – Saturday 7.45pm
14, 15 and 17 May 7.45pm
18 and 19 May 7pm
Sign-Interpreted Performance(s) 2 June 7.45pm Signed by Mary Connell
22, 29 May and 5, 12 June 4pm
9 June 4pm