Adding to the naturally chilly atmospheric feel of The Vault, Black Battles with Dogs is a snapshot into the lives of four characters who meet under unfortunate conditions. A black construction site worker has died in circumstances that are never made clear to you, and Horn is trying to play down having lost the body to his 'brother'.
A simple set lends itself to this play and theatre, with scaffolding and a few broken bits of construction site 'furniture' creating a bleak outlook, but with a beautiful flowering tree to contrast this. Paul Hamiltons Horn shows a strong man who's tired with the hand life has dealt him, looking for a change, and attempts to bring this change closer with his unlikely marriage. Joseph Arkleys Cal is an extreme contrast to this, and plays a perfect psycho, a bit too trigger happy for Horns liking, and constantly hearing his dead dogs barking, along with his constant drinking which just inflates this nervous characters arrogance and ego.
Playing Horns unlikely elegant fiancee Leonie, Rebecca Smith-Williams is a city girl out of place, travelling to meet Horns in his construction site so she can see Africa. Inappropriately dressed, she flounders around, trying to make sense of her surroundings, but never quite succeeding. Her performance of her failed coping mechanisms and eventual breakdown are the most empathetic moments in the play.
Osi Okerafor is the quiet one on the side, trying to calm down both Horn and Cals tempers, and is the unlikely love for Leonie, very well played, but it is debatable whether his character is one that is completely nescessary.
All in all, a truly intriguing play to watch, with themes which have a strong resonance even today, of loneliness, isolation, and an ever present racial divide. However, with its unclear plot line and down right bizarre ending, it is unclear if Bernard-Marie Koltès quite knew what it was he was writing.
Alexander Zeldin does a great job with what he has been given, although slow in some moments, the chopping and changing of the scenes throughout only adds to this interesting yet truly unorganised play.
- Jamie Penston Raja