The Boy Who Talked to Dogs started as a book by Martin McKenna based on his life story and has now been turned into a play and part musical for its world premiere at the 2021 Adelaide Festival. This is an incredibly well-acted and produced play and is a credit to Adelaide’s own Slingsby Theatre Company and the State Theatre Company of SA. This is a poignant story of an abused boy growing up in Ireland who ran away from home at an early age and for some years lived rough, in barns and ditches, with a gang of six stray dogs who became his family.
The crowd was ushered into the Thomas Edmonds Opera Studio at Wayville Showgrounds and we were all sitting on chairs around round tables. I thought it was a strange seating arrangement but it soon made complete sense to me as the intricate sets for the play (designed by Wendy Todd) were placed in all four corners of the room as well as a platform in the middle and so there was a lot of moving your chair around so you could see all the action. The use of shadow puppetry and video animation (created by Clara Solly-Slade) to simulate the dogs and was both poignant and imaginative.
Bryan Burroughs as Martin is the lynchpin of this moving production adapted by Amy Conroy and masterfully directed by Andy Packer. Bryan is a ball of energy for the whole play and his manic performance of Martin from a young boy to 13 years is remarkable. How they are able to do two plays each Saturday of the three-week run is astounding as he hardly stops running around.
There is also wonderful Irish music in this play written by Irish singer-songwriter Lisa O’Neil, composed by Quincy Grant and magnificently performed by Quincy, Victoria Falconer, and Emma Luker.
Broadway in New York and the West End in London are closed down to theatre at the moment so Adelaide is very lucky to be able to see this play and based on the quality of it, I would expect it to tour the world one day. Luckily the play is on for the entire run of the festival and ends on the 14th of March.
For more background on this play, I would suggest listening to the touching podcast of when Martin McKenna appeared on the ABC Radio show “Conversations”. The Director of the play, Andy Packer, heard the podcast and then went about securing the rights to the story.
Adelaide Festival Review By Richard De Pizzol
For show info and tickets to The Boy Who Talked To Dogs head to the Adelaide Festival