It is intriguing how a musical with such a fierce name can be so gentle and sensitive. Amidst the brash soldiers and their swearing, Dogfight shines light on the importance of not being judgmental and accepting each others’ differences to work together. Dogfight, in a youth production by the British Theatre Academy at Southwark Playhouse, transforms the room into San Francisco in the 60s, where a group of young Marines are gearing up to be shipped off to the Vietnam war. Their last night home manifests into a twisted tale of debauchery, heartbreak, and eventually apprehension for the life left behind.

The musical is based on the 1991 movie of the same name, a love story between Eddie (Lucca Chadwick-Patel), a newly enlisted Marine, and Rose (Ginnie Thompson), a shy diner waitress. The Marines host a party, called the “dogfight”, to celebrate their last night of freedom. The “dogfight” is a legendary night where each Marine must bring the ugliest girl they can to the dance floor to win a prize, and, of course, bragging rights. Plot twist though, Eddie falls in love with his “ugly” date, Rose, and realises how horrible the dogfight really is. The real ugly people are the Marines for being egotistical and shallow.

The dramatic story was spirited and unique, and the passionate performances by the soldiers made it worthwhile. The protagonists were soldiers who objectified women and took pleasure in their degradation. It was amazing how the performance progressed with the protagonists becoming easily the most hated characters for being so condemnatory. The convincingly cruel and heartless personas of Eddie and his comrades were a testament to the great acting of the cast, with special mention to Matty Collins and James Knudsen for their powerful performances.

The set and audience seating were in a tightknit space and the hilarious interactions between the cast and viewers made the musical an immersive experience, especially the number “Hey Good Lookin” when the Marines went on the quest to find dates for the “dogfight”. Their liberal use of foul language only made it feel more comical and real. However, given how small the space was, the musical numbers could have been improved with better acoustics. The orchestra often took over the singing making the performance disjointed at times.

Dogfight runs for an uninterrupted 105 minutes, which naturally led the audience to get more engrossed and invested in the story - without any popcorn or loo tainted distractions! Even with such a serious performance, dogfight was digestible and tactfully conveyed a difficult message about sexism.

Despite their differences, the sense of camaraderie between the Marines was beautiful, and the audience was visibly moved by the ultimate battle scene when these seemingly invincible characters writhed in pain and died. The best scene, however, (SPOILER ALERT) was the epic strobe light scene when Eddie is transformed back to his grim reality where he is on the bus back home from war and dogfight seems like just an inconsequential misdemeanour. The audience is made aware that the major part of the musical – the dogfight, the mistreatment of girls and the brotherhood that was the Three Bees was just … a regret, a flashback.

A story about toxic masculinity and patriarchy for objectifying women and basing their self worth solely on their looks is as much of a cautionary tale as it is a reminder of times when settings like this were more prevalent. These themes are still relevant in today’s world where misogynistic attitudes continue to rear their ugly heads from time to time.

The simplicity of the set and characters gave a raw and forceful message. The plain set had minimal props, meaning the actors relied solely on their acting to transform the small room in London into America in the 60’s. Like all dogs in a fight, the individual ‘dogs’ were ultimately vulnerable and innocent, as were the Marines themselves.

Overall, Dogfight was an excellent production and not one to miss, sending a message of positivity and kindness.

- 4 stars