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Review of A Dog's Life and Jingle Bells, Batman Smells

27th to 29th November 2008.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Every dog has its day in Compton's canine capers

Compton Players: A Dog's Life and Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, at The Coronation Hall, Compton, from Thursday, November 27 to Saturday, November 29

An evening of one-act plays provides a great opportunity for a small cast to play contrasting roles, but the roles that Compton Players took on last week were particularly challenging.

In A Dog's Life, we met four engaging canine characters in neighbouring cages at the kennels, all waiting hopefully for a new home - Fritz the aggressive German shepherd, Fifi the proud French poodle, old Ben who has lived most of his life on the road, and the adorable puppy Ginger.

This short play was beautifully written and combined humour and pathos up to its poignant conclusion. Fritz (Paul Shave) and Fifi (Brenda Prior) squabbled endearingly as they displayed their national characteristics, though the French and German accents were slightly uneven. Charlie East as the benign and world-weary Ben really warmed to his part, while Naomi Read was amazing as the ever-hungry pup, capturing the excitable mannerisms of the young dog brilliantly with her regular refrain: "Is it food? Is it, is it?"

Eric and Liz Saxton completed the small cast as the warden and visitor, with nicely-directed interactions between the dogs and humans. With a basic but effective set and simple costumes, it was a credit to the performers that we felt completely drawn into the dogs' world.

In Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, the actors exchanged collars for short trousers and gymslips as they became the performers in an infant nativity play.

Liz Saxton took the part of Angelica, with a very young eye for the boys; H Connolly was the thoughtful and shy Joey, with some well-observed expressions and mannerisms; Naomi Read was excellent as the tearful Sandra; and Paul Shave had a decidedly maniacal twinkle in his eye as he assassinated his classmates with his toy gun.

Failing dismally to control events was the hapless teacher Mr Johnson (well played by Eric Saxton).

The pace of the performance must have been physically exhausting for the cast, and there were some fine comic moments as Joey tried to stand in for all the missing cast members and the play inevitably ended in tears and tantrums.

This was a clever idea, well handled by the players, but A Dog's Life was a hard act to follow and it was the first performance that made the biggest impression on me.

An entertaining double-bill, well directed by Mary Warrington, and an impressive challenge for the cast.