Diamond Dogs

BATS Theatre, Wellington

15/02/2011 - 17/02/2011

Production Details

“What would Bowie do?” seems as good a question as any to ask when stuck in the rut of depression. Diamond Dogs is a comedy, which happens to be about depression.

Writer and co-star Kate Fitzroy has mined the depths of her own experience and married it with her background as a comedic writer and actor.

While the depressed Kate, the eponymous main character, is thwarted by every aspect of day-to-day life, she discovers an alter-ego in David Bowie and constantly asks “What Would Bowie Do?” His advice is not always sound, but always a comfort.

Season: Tuesday 15th February – Thursday 17th February 2011
Time: 9.30pm
Price: $16 Full / $14 Concession / $12 Fringe Addict
Length: 1hr
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 Cast & Crew 

Actors: Kate Fitzroy and Julia Harrison 
Designer: Steph Prowse  

Drama as therapy

Review by Lynn Freeman 24th Feb 2011

It’s a gutsy thing to tell the world about your experience of depression and to try to find ways to help people understand what it’s like to struggle through every day, overwhelmed by your emotions. Kate Fitzroy does that in Diamond Dogs, mixing up real and imagined events in an effort to make sense of what she’s going through.

One of the conceits of the play is that whenever Fitzroy can’t cope with a situation, she wonders what her hero, Bowie, would do, and we hear tiny often inaudible snippets of his songs which she then acts out. A clever bit of set work by Steph Prowse turns a bed into a bus seat into a work desk. 

With friend and collaborator Julia Harrison, Fitzroy takes us through a series of repetitious days where things gradually go from bad to worse, leading to a breakdown and the start of the healing process through counselling.

The repetition is annoying rather than effective – the movie Groundhog Day is one of the few examples of how repetition can really work for the audience. Fitzroy’s insomniac night time scenes are interminable, as she is flung around by a twisted sheet and argues with her own voice telling her it’s futile to go on. 

It’s Fitzroy’s first solo script and she’s writing about what she knows. But it is so obviously drama as therapy – something she talks about in the play. It’s a popular technique, but it just doesn’t always make for compelling theatre. Diamond Dogs is heartfelt but that doesn’t make up for its flaws – in script, in pace and in execution.
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More Therapy Than Theatre

Review by Helen Sims 16th Feb 2011

What would Bowie do?  This is the question posed in an attempt to overcome the social and motivational difficulties encountered by a severely depressed person portrayed in Diamond Dogs.  The depressed person in question is Kate Fitzroy – the writer, actor and main character in this show.  It seems the play was written as a form of theatrical therapy for her own depression, and also to humorously confront some of the stigma associated with depression.  In fulfilling the latter of these goals, Fitzroy is assisted by a second performer, Julia Harrison, who plays a variety of characters that confront or shun Kate. Fitzroy wanted to show that something good can come out of something bad and also to subvert the “depressed genius” stereotype.

Most of the show is structured around repetition of a daily routine – wake to an alarm clock playing Bowie’s Changes, get ready for work while watching Paul Henry on Breakfast television, walk to the bus stop listening to Bowie, ride the bus while being harangued by a patronising young professional, work in a job with annoying callers and an unfeeling supervisor and then go home to a restless night’s sleep.  Through playing out this routine we see Kate’s mental state break down and her increasing pleas to Bowie for help and guidance. The tone oscillates between self deprecating humour, to hyper-analytical self criticism to despair.

The idea of the David Bowie alter ego is not fully developed. Instead his music is more a resort for Kate when she has moments of crisis.  He instructs her to smile like a lizard, just dance or magic jump.  Harrison’s range of characters are also left undeveloped, presumably intentionally.  I wondered if the play might be better as a tighter and shorter one person show.  It’s hard to see what the other characters really add to the story and themes.  This is not to detract from Harrison’s performance, which is energetic and focused; it’s just that given that the characters are all as seen through Kate’s eyes they could be replaced with monologues or puppets.  This is the play’s first performance, and while the source material holds promise, it could do with some more fine-tuning.

I found I could make more sense of this show after visiting the blog referred to in the programme, in particular of the dog barks that punctuate the play.  The middle of the play breaks down into Fitzroy largely pacing the stage in anguish before mounting a table in a drunken state – at this point the audience doesn’t share in the journey. It also seemed that some of the technical cues were slowing down the pace of the play, with the result that engagement with the audience was lost and at points the actors were inaudible.  The play rallies in the final scenes before a disappointingly glib ending. Overall it struck me as being more therapy than theatre at this stage.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


Derrick Reeves February 28th, 2011

The points raised in the review are less significant than what was not written.

Fitzroy's method was to concretely explain the circumstances of a young worker on the edge of a mental breakdown.  Kate suffers from the puerile backwardness of the media, the irrationality of her workplace, and a wretched standard of living.  She has no real hope for the future.  In so far as society offers her a better life, it's the self-absorbed and repugnant existence of the complacent middle class.  Kate's fantasy of escaping into a "Bowie heaven" is her mind's way of defending itself from despair and isolation - but the illusion only contributes further difficulties.  The majority of the world's population has had or witnessed very similar experiences.  To put that another way, Kate's depression gives form to a rich social content.  Fitzroy should be commended for having gone beneath the surface impressions to explain an important truth about mental illness, and more broadly, about society.

Sims either doesn't notice or doesn't care about any of this.  Instead, superficial observations and the conclusion, "more therapy than theatre at this stage".  The echo of this conclusion mocks the original!  Fitzroy's therapy, no doubt, requires her to come to a deeper understanding of her illness.  She has worked to share these insights with the audience, and produced a substantial, if unpolished, work of art.

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