Bad Dog by Ashley Milne is a new piece of writing that had a successful debut at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Now Inkwell Productions have brought Milne’s work to life for a two-night run that worked well in the intimate space of the UEA Drama Studio Rehearsal Room. Touching on dark and thought-provoking themes, the play is a two-hander between conflicting sisters: Grace played by Tara Woodley and Evie by Katie Smith. The audience have stumbled upon a crime scene, where we are left pondering what events led to a blood-soaked stage and a shaken Evie with blood on her hands. Grace has to uncover Evie’s brooding thoughts that led to her killing the neighbour’s dog, whilst helping to clean up the scene of the crime. The pair attempt to determine what led them to this moment, questioning their faith and morality in the process.
The overwrought atmosphere created by the two actors is intensified as the horror of Evie’s crimes are uncovered. Katie Smith portrayed a sporadic and temperamental Evie who, after revealing the murder weapon, was beguiling and untrustworthy. The audience couldn’t help but question: will she harm her own sister? Grace’s own virtue is called into question as the reality of her sister’s sporadic killing spree weighs heavily on her conscience. There were intense discussions of religion and doing the right thing, which Tara Woodley embodied with conviction, if not a little hesitant with her delivery. There were also moments of sensitivity and heartache from Woodley that deserved more attention, in order to contrast with Evie’s colder perspective. After a few Hail Mary’s, it was evident which sister had a stronger moral compass.
There was a powerful moment during Evie’s monologue as she detailed how she killed the neighbour’s dog, and the pleasure she felt when ending its life. Although a harrowing tale to tell, there was a moment of sympathy to be felt for Evie, who described tearing the dog’s artery, all the blood, and that ‘it felt right’. Evie revealed their troubled childhood, and how she transferred her traumatic experiences into dark actions to soothe the ghosts of her past. One of those ghosts is another dead body. Grace, turned to Catholicism for comfort, steers their conversation into the realms of heaven, hell and repentance, which she is so desperate for her sister to seek.
Rhiannon Culley and Keelan Swift-Stalley’s direction captured the short play’s moralistic themes and used the small space of the Rehearsal Room well to portray the blood-soaked living room. The team dealt with a complicated subject matter, that at times was difficult to follow, but remained visually appealing. The all-important dynamic between the sister that this two-hander demanded to drive the plot forward was at times lacking, but with more time, the actor’s portrayal of sisterhood would perhaps look more authentic in the dark world of Bad Dog.