Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Preview - Dogfight

TWO years ago, Dogfight, a new musical based on the 1991 film of the same name, premiered Off-Broadway.
It tells the story of a group of young American marines who enjoy a last night of freedom before they go off to fight in the Vietnam War.
So successful was it, winning the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical and gaining seven other award nominations, that it is to receive its European premiere this month at the Southwark Playhouse.
It is being produced by Southwark Playhouse regular Danielle Tarento and stars Brixton-based actor Samuel Weir who is making a welcome return to the company following his appearance in Danielle's production of Parade three years ago.
"It's a real privilege to be part of," says Samuel as we chat during a well earned break from rehearsals. "It's just a fantastic story - it's well written and beautifully composed so we are all really excited - especially as the Southwark Playhouse was chosen for its UK and European Premiere.
"It's also really great to be back at this theatre," he adds. "The old venue near London Bridge was very atmospheric but this new building is fantastic - there is always a real buzz about the place and the quality of the shows they put on here is incredible.
"With this one, there are only 11 of us in the cast so we're quite small in number but we are like family now and rehearsals are going really well so now we can't wait for the run to start."
The bulk of the play is set on the night of November 21, 1963. It is the night before their deployment to Vietnam, and the three young Marines set out for one final boys’ night of debauchery.
But when Corporal Eddie Birdlace meets Rose, the unassuming and idealistic waitress he enlists to win a cruel bet, she rewrites the rules of the game and opens his eyes to what really matters in life.
At first glance it may sound rather distasteful in tone but Samuel insists at the heart of it is a love story.
"In their last night of fun, the marines hold what they called a dogfight in which they all put some money in a pot, have a party and whoever brings the ugliest date to the party wins the money," he says.
"This bit is not nice at all, but it's actually more about the love story between Eddie and Rose and how she changes his perceptions of things."
Samuel plays Fector, one of Eddie's friends and a fellow marine and he admits to seeing a bit of his younger self in the role.
"Fector is up for a party - he loves life, everything about it and lives it to the full," laughs Samuel.
"He's fun loving and if you dare him to do something he will likely do it - he just wants to get all there is out of life.
"He's about 19 so a bit younger than I am but I do see a bit of him in me - we both embrace life and like to enjoy ourselves and he's a great character to play.
"We are also based in cities which are creative and culturally diverse and exciting and where there is always a huge variety of stuff going on all the time - he was in San Franscisco and I live in Brixton - so there are definitely a few crossovers between me and his character although I think there is always some part of you that relates to the character you play.
"But he's much more go-getting, fearless and daring than I am and more open to doing crazy things than me," he adds laughing.
"The highlight of my weekend is exploring Brixton market, which I love because there is so much to see, sitting in a cafe and watching the world go by or going to the Ritzy!"
As well as the love story between Eddie and Rose, the play also explores the relationships between the young marines and how they grow up during the course of the play which Samuel says is quite emotional.
"They are all about 19 so still very young in terms of life experience," he says.
"At that age though you think you know everything and are invincible and fearless - these men especially because they were told they would come back heroes. So this last party is like an initiation to manhood and it is a really big thing for them.
"The story explores the fragility of life and their innocence.
"We also see what it's like to return from war and finding the country has changed. It was a double whammy for these young men. They came home - some terribly injured and shell shocked - hoping to be welcomed back with open arms and as heroes but they were spat on and people turned away from them. It was terribly damaging for them and there was no support.
"So it's a bit of a rollercoaster for the audience - you are taken from one emotional extreme to another!"
Despite all this Samuel insists the show is a celebration of life and audiences are in for a treat.
"It's such a great story you can't help but be moved in all ways," he says. "These men are having the time of their lives and don't have a care in the world really.
"This is reflected very much in the music which is beautiful and brings out that joyous and patriotic atmosphere.
"At the moment I'm going to bed with six songs buzzing around in my head!" he adds laughing. "You know a musical is good when you can't get the music out of your head!"

Dogfight is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway between Friday, August 8 and Saturday, September 13. Tickets from £12. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

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