The Darlaston Dog Fight
a review by Mary Cutler
This really is a little gem of a play- sparkling in its wit and characterisation, multi-faceted in its scope, and so true you could cut glass with it. The play’s structure makes brilliant use of the limited resources of a small cast and simple staging. The central conceit- that we are going to be shown Rough Moey’s life story –we the audience at his ale house- acted out by two of his acquaintances, works exceptionally well. The fact the two actors are women – Tina Barnes and Reaya Sealey – adds a layer of complexity to what we are seeing. Rough Moey typifies a certain kind of masculinity for good or ill- usually ill for the females in his life, including his beloved dog- and the fact that his mates, his partners in crime, are portrayed by women leads us quite naturally to question his account of events. The final reveal of who these women actually are, and where Rough Moey actually is, is a triumphant of misdirection. In particular one actor’s real relationship to Ruff Moey turns on its head everything we have seen before, and is a twist worthy of the best soap opera. I can’t praise the versatility of Tina and Reaya highly enough; they are called upon not simply to be colliers and drinking companions, but fighting dogs and even a bull.
But as, he’d expect, the star of the show is Rough Moey himself. It’s a virtuoso part given a bravura performance by Chris Kibbler. We can thank the actor that we are never able to take our eyes off him, but it’s thanks to the writer we can’t want to hear what he will say next. David Calcutt gives us Moey in all his complexity, and doesn’t shy away from his dark side- the alternate version of their marriage given by Moey and then his wife is particularly moving. As a members of the audience we may question why we’re so mesmerised by this violent self-destructive selfish man, who sells his own wife in Wednesbury market. Are we being taken by the compelling charm and charisma often exhibited by psychopaths? That would be too easy. We are shown the cost to Moey when, in his determination that he shall always be top dog, he kills the thing he loves, and by that I mean his dog, not his wife. We see what it costs him to abandon the daughter he’s apparently indifferent to, what it costs him to alienate all his mates and drinking companions. And yet, again for good or ill, he is always his own man. He could, and does, say, along with the Duchess of Malfi, I am Rough Moey still. He fights as hard as his beloved bulldog, and like the bull dog, he never gives up. We are forced to admire his courage, determination and black humour, even if we don’t want to.
Hard times breed hard men-and women. Rough Moey is a product of the Black Country, just as much as its coal and its steel. He is what happens when men live their lives in the darkness of the mines, breathing in the smoke of the foundries. He tells his story in the wonderful, rich, blackly comic Black Country dialect and in the music and words of its urban folk songs. It is a dark story, lit by the light of fires in the furnaces, driven by the rhythms of the beaten metal. Rough Moey is the voice of the Black Country working class, who should be as beaten down by their lives as the metal they bash, but never are. It’s a voice too rarely heard and it is hugely to the credit of the writer, the actors, the director, Glen Buglass and the choreographer, Helen Calcutt, that it rings so true in this wonderful play. It deserves a wider audience.