Old Red Lion’s The Dogs Of War shows family on the brink

The Dogs Of War

The Dogs Of War - Credit: Archant

Skins actor Richard Southgate tells Alex Bellotti how this dark comedic drama is helping tackle mental health.

However dysfunctional your family might be, spare a thought for young Johnny Herming, who returns from university in the Old Red Lion’s latest show, The Dogs Of War, to find his dogs have turned invisible.

A new piece of writing by Tim Foley, the play depicts the struggles of Johnny, his tinkering father and pill-popping mother after they relocate to rural Northern Ireland and try to stave off a thundering descent into madness.

Richard Southgate, who plays Johnny, says the way Foley depicts the trials of mental health problems is what gives the play its heart.

“Generally it’s just this family of three being absolutely torn apart and struggling, because no one really talks about anything, nothing gets across and everything’s held back from each other,” explains the 25-year-old.

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“At the centre of it is this incredible piece of writing; it’s so sophisticated and honest and deals with quite a difficult thing in a very delicate, respectful way that’s also very funny.”

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this month, the production donated 20 per cent of all preview ticket revenue towards the charity Rethink Mental Illness.

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For Southgate, the show’s ability to engage with the issue from both serious and comic perspectives helps to make it more accessible.

“What’s important is that it’s not comedy through awkwardness – it’s not laughing it away. There are elements from the absurd to the sublime and that’s a very useful tool to get people talking.

“When you’re trying to take away any stigma, an idea of something being scary or dangerous, then that’s a fairly useful way of getting there.”

As a young actor, Stratford resident Southgate got his first role in the West End musical Spring Awakening and has also appeared in Channel 4’s Skins.

Now working with another prodigious talent in Foley, he says the advantage of a young crew is that it can often appeal to a younger audience – something he certainly hopes will be the case with The Dogs Of War.

“I’ve read this play again and again and again, and every single time something new comes up – some clever piece of wordplay, some clever reference. It’s the sort of thing you could write an entire essay about over one word, for years to come.

“Now that’s been taken and put on, we’re starting to see the actual world Tom created and it’s so exciting, I can’t wait to see how it all comes together.”

The Dogs Of War runs at the Old Red Lion until June 20. Visit oldredliontheatre.co.uk

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