Dog Show at The Pleasance: A brilliant opportunity to train your inner pup to challenge gender conditioning ★★★★★

“Welcome to Crappersea Dogs Home”, announces drag-extraordinare, Ginger Johnson. First thing to note is that she looks positively stunning. Wearing a glamorous azure blue dress, with ruffled sleeves, she also serves a dazzling glitter make up look that says more is more. Rehearsed within a mere two weeks, this tight canine cabaret is jam-packed with sketches, skits, songs, spoken word and bohemian characters. As anticipated with co-writers and directors Ginger Johnson and David Cumming, ‘Dog Show’ is unabashedly queer, and it lets all the dogs out. Expect this production to be peppered with plenty of hilarious innuendos, such as “who’s the meat, and who’s the bone?”

‘Dog Show’ really gets its teeth into the struggles faced by the queer community and parodies the reality of heteronormative traditions. In one of the sketches, Ginger and Azara are looking to adopt a child from an agency run by David. First of all, David’s excellent timing, quirkiness and hilarious pratfalls has the audience in stitches. To Ginger’s and Azara’s panic, the child is heterosexual, and most insidiously, enjoys the work of Jeremy Clarkson. 

Toxic masculinity is a hugely present theme that is visited throughout this show. Dogs themselves are associated with raw, gruff masculinity and uninhibited, inappropriate sexuality. As opposed to cats, which are often overtly sexualised for their slender gracefulness, and with ‘pussy’ being a common euphemism for the vagina. In one outrageous, but hilarious scene, David animatedly oscillates his entire body as he fornicates with a footstool, whilst singing it a love song. As made clear by David Cumming in the Q &A session following the show, it is also a play on the word ‘poof’, synonymous with a footstool. The line “We’ll have to hide how we feel” is not only comical in the context of this odd but common pairing between a dog and a piece of furniture, but is also understood to be a reflection of the struggles faced by the queer community. 

David Cumming and his footstool lover

Whilst the show will usually elicit bouts of laughter from the audience, there are some incredibly poignant performances which clearly make this show an empowering commentary on the queer experience. Rudy Jeevanjee gives a blazing dance performance whilst lip-syncing to the words of Octavia St. Laurent from the documentary Paris Is Burning. There is also a story of a Russian space dog that is performed by Ginger, and narrated by David Cumming, which is also one of the more sobering performances. Sat on a swing, Ginger Johnson is accelerated into space as she swings higher and higher towards the audience. As she soars past the atmosphere, the lights darken and bubbles are released – it is breathtakingly magical. This story is based on a real mission conducted by Russia, in which dogs were sent to space with many never returning. And whilst this may not seem overtly related to the queer experience, it humanises these canine characters. It can also be considered to be a comment on the loneliness in death of AIDs victims who found themselves in the territory of a poorly explored modern disease, or the abandonment of queer people forced to survive in the realm of heterosexuality where life feels so unbearably unnatural. But, this scene is open to the interpretation of the audience, unlike many of the other skits which are fairly self-explanatory. 

(From left to right) Azara, Rudy Jeevanjee, David Cumming, Ginger Johnson, Mahatma Khandi

In a demonstration of the innovativeness of this troupe, Azara asks the women in the audience to cheer, and we all give the same, soft “Woo!” She then asks us to try giving a more raucous cheer instead to defy our own gender conditioning. Pertinent to the theme of dogs, the audience is essentially receiving training throughout this show. Her rap is certainly one of the most electrifying acts, with the audience clapping along to the beat and cheering to lyrics such as “How you act is not attached to your groin.” Interestingly, she brings to light the toxic masculinity prevalent in the butch lesbian community which is an enlightening topic for all. 

The canine theme is used to candidly discuss sexuality in a way in which crudeness is common parlance, kinks are pulled out of the shadows of fringe-sexuality into a mainstream spotlight and toxic masculinity is banished in place of lionising vulnerability. Ginger Johnson often addresses the members of the audience as “pups”, which further enforces the idea that we are in puppy training, learning to let go of our gender conditioning. But, it’s also quite fun and Ginger is often seen by members of the audience as a matriarch figure of her troupe. The theme also opens itself to the exploration for the prevalent sub-dom (sub-dog?) kink with dialogues such as “Let’s go walking. Come on daddy, let’s go walking!” The absurdity of anthropomorphised animals holds the mirror up to the absurdity of conservative attitudes towards sexuality and gender. 

This is a Christmas show that is not a panto. It does break the forth wall, it will invite your involvement, it will make you sing along and cheer, but it will also leave you exhilarated, empowered and breathless as you journey through a tightly woven tapestry of the queer experience. This show will certainly have your tail wagging!

Dog Show is running until the 19th December. Get your tickets here.

Photo Credit : Ali Wright