OneStopArts.com / Review / Writing: Journalism

Audio drama and a tour: Dog Rough at the Last Refuge (***)

It’s not unusual for new venues to spring up in old warehouses, but the amount of new theatre work pouring out of the new spaces around the Bussey Building (and the Copeland Industrial Park) in recent times is nothing short of impressive. Anna Beecher’s audio play Dog Rough, which encouraged travel, seemed the ideal opportunity for a snoop around.

In the case of new “fringe” venues – already a term difficult to fully define – notoriety often follows success: even after a string of popular shows, it takes many a venue a significant amount of time to find its place on the theatre map. However, in the case of Peckham’s latest arts venue(s), the Royal Court’s Theatre Local programme have led to instant renown, if of a vague nature.

The problem is, largely, down to the fact that so many arts spaces have instantly appeared in the Copeland Industrial Park, and that finding your way around it isn’t easy. The old factory warehouse, the Bussey Building, holds the CLF Art Cafe, which was already a club/venue. The Theatre Local programme then helped build the CLF Theatre, one storey above, which is now also a performance space – and sometimes referred to as the Art Cafe. And now the Last Refuge, another space, is also there, although not in the Bussey Building itself, but down a rather ominous side alley. And none of these are particularly well sign-posted.

So, any journey to this new Peckham arts complex is fraught from the start: in the case of Anna Beecher’s Dog Rough, I actually found opportunity to explore properly, as the piece is purely an audio play. After being handed my headphones and a black leather jacket with various items in the pockets, I was instructed to wander if I wanted: which, considering the play starts with rushed, running footsteps, I promptly did.

In the piece, two stories overlap – a male voice describes an unfortunate accident with his dog, while a female voice recounts a story from her childhood. Both stories come together during the accident, and there’s a hint that both have been changed by what they witnessed, but there’s not really enough to go on; greater concepts and thoughts are only hinted at, which at first led me to believe that Dog Rough was a description as well as a title. But no, it’s mentioned in the story, so I’m led to believe this is more of a tentative result than a first stab at a project, although I hope it’s actually the latter, because there’s more here to be uncovered.

The audio play format (where audience members are given portable audio devices and headphones, and then encouraged to act on what they hear) isn’t new to me, and seems to be in the process of becoming very in vogue – and it’s quite fun. There’s an air of murder mystery or role-playing game, and previous ones I’ve encountered have made more of what they can ask their audience to do.

In the case of Dog Rough, though, I felt what I was being asked to do was too vague: being given a jacket that, on looking through the pockets, contained objects described in the male character’s narrative, as well as freedom to roam, didn’t mean that I felt part of the story. I did try and go and find a suitable location for the piece, and listening to the story while wandering through the back alleys of Peckham did feel fitting, but I didn’t feel as attached or connected as I have to other such projects.

However, it did, finally, give me a chance to fully explore these new venues, and I’d now be far happier to explain where everything around the Bussey Building is. The performances by Remmie Milner and Jack Holden are also nicely done. But Anna Beecher needs to find the meat that makes this kind of audio work fly – for now, Dog Rough is just a pleasant diversion.

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