TextPhotograph/Kate Caspari

The clash of light and darkness which characterises the script of Dogfight was clear at opening night in the Robinson Auditorium. I was sitting in the front row, tapping my feet, carried aloft by the bouncing rhythm of the musical numbers though noticing a dark shadow was cast across the stage as the characters introduced themselves. Dogfight is the story of young Marines in the 1960s, a few days away from deployment to Vietnam. They’re full of idealistic notions of war and puffed up on their own self-importance. It’s a story about deep rooted misogyny as these young men manipulate the women around them to help maintain their toxic masculine image

"This pathos is squandered, chipped away with each crash, cruel and violent act committed by these men"

From the outset the audience know these men have been sold a lie. They will not be hometown hero’s and most of them will only see American soil if their lucky enough to be buried in it. This builds a level of pathos as we are shown the fraternity of these marines, the bonds they have forged in basic training. However, throughout the show this pathos is squandered, chipped away with each crash, cruel and violent act committed by these men. Their eventually tragic deaths in Vietnam an extension of the brutality at home. These dark themes, manipulation, brutality and sexual assault, crash violently against both the swinging soundtrack of the show and the basic romance, the emotional core of the musical. 

TextPhotograph/Kate Caspari

The dissonance between these various components jar. They grate along your brain and taint the upbeat songs with a dark subtext. The number ‘Home Town Hero’, brilliantly performed by Riccardo Atherton, Daniel Ellis and Tom Hayes, is given a whole new meaning, shifting from the naïve imagining of young boys to the indictment of the entitlement of the American military complex. The constant presence of the American establishment is reflected in the a red, white and blue lighting scheme which represents the pervasiveness of this corrupted American dream.

"The constant presence of the American establishment is reflected in the a red, white and blue lighting scheme" 

The shining light in this dark show comes in a masterful performance by April Perrott. Perrott commands the stage. Powerful but vulnerable, charismatic but shy and able to sing with a power only matched by the subtlety of her inflection. She is matched in musical talent by her co-star Riccardo Atherton who’s exceptional range complements his compromised character. Whilst these two performers are outstanding at their roles their lack of chemistry leaves some scenes feeling slightly flat. This, however, is made up for by a fantastic score organised by musical director Jemma Starling. The band is unobtrusive but omnipresent adding each scene whilst not taking over the stage. They draw emotion from performances, underscore powerful moments and bring a lively  momentum perfect for the swinging sixties.

The only criticism you could make of the musical numbers within the show is a lack of choreography. With this exception of the bouncy and energetic ‘Hey Good Lookin’’ most of the choreography is flat - the characters mostly shuffle on the spot looking slightly without direction. However, for the most part, you’re too focused on the staggering musical talent on stage to be concerned about underwhelming blocking


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As producer Kate Caspari said to me at the end of the show, staging Dogfight is a ‘balancing act.’ You have to be true to the script whilst keeping the marines likeable, you have to keep the sixties swinging but maintain the dark undertones, and you have to maintain the pace of the show whilst fulfilling the plot requirements. For the most part Dogfight dosn’t slip. It successfully balances its disparate facets and provides a nuanced, engaging and entertaining portrayal of characters trapped in a cycle of toxicity. 

Dogfight is a showcase of some of the most talented musical performers in Cambridge, it has a dynamic creative direction, both musical and dramatic, and some standout performances that captivate utterly. Dogfight will surprise you, shock you and charm you, all whilst drilling its overwhelming catchy songs deep into your brain.