Dogging on the Heath
“We have half an hour until the Viagra kicks in!”
Set on Hampstead Heath, wearing their dog leads round their necks (but not on collars) two men are walking their dogs during the pandemic. These men are Percy (Ian McKellen) a separated gay man and university academic and Frank (Roger Allam) a retired history teacher, recently widowed after his wife died. Both men are from Yorkshire, Percy from Whitby Dracula country and Frank from Pontefract.
Very sadly we do not see the dogs who might have upstaged the actors but only hear them barking off stage. If you are interested in the dogs, as I was, Percy’s is a Labrador called Bruno (might he have been a chocolate Labrador?) and Frank’s is a spaniel called Toffee who might be a little wide round the girth. Sadly Toffee is subject to fat shaming by Percy which gets hoots of appreciative laughter from the audience. Looking in the theatre programme there are two dog pictures, a cocker spaniel and a golden labrador.
The initial scenes are full of the small talk that strangers make on first meeting but these lines are being delivered by two masterly actors, one of whom acquired a young fan base by starring in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Both men are lonely and pleased to have each other’s company. Percy explains that after a long relationship with Dennis, one day a decade ago he changed the locks on his flat. Dennis now lives two streets away from Percy. As both men share their thoughts on their major life relationship, Percy defines it as ”Too long” and Frank his marriage, as ”Not long enough”.
The two men have distinctive characters, Percy playful, jokey and less sensitive than Frank where Allam shows more emotion and empathy. There is some fairly smutty talk from McKellen’s character to do with the length of his tongue and deep throating a cucumber but these lines, being delivered by a knight of the realm adds to the audience hilarity.
I was really surprised to see that no-one is credited with Intimacy Direction in this production. The men go tie shopping in Marks and Spencer for a lecture Percy has to deliver on his climate change theories and then ends up in Percy’s flat.
Later Percy brings out his rainbow net tutu and ”Some People are Gay. Get Over It!” Tee shirt and Frank is persuaded to wear glittery rainbow shorts with his socks and sandals. They are going on the gay celebration that is the Pride march. Percy talks about his 28 year old lover and eventually persuades Frank to go to a karaoke session in a pub. Percy stays away and Frank looks after Bruno but Bruno impales his neck on a stick thrown for him and has to be operated on by the vet. The two men fall out over this as we have already seen the ease with which Percy can walk away from relationships.
Without the celebrity and acting strength of these two actors, and Sean Matthias’ direction, Ben Weatherill’s play might seem less worthy but maybe we need more plays about having sex in your seventies and eighties.
Frank and Percy
Written by Ben Weatherill
Directed by Sean Matthias
Director: Sean Matthias
Designer: Morgan Large
Lighting Designer: Nick Richings
Sound Designer: Andy Graham
Running Time: Two hours 20 minutes including an interval
Booking to 17th December 2023
The Other Palace
London SW1E 5JA
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Other Palace
on 26th September 2023