Cats and Dogs Give the Best Advice bills itself as a kids’ show for adults. On close inspection, that’s quite a confusing sentence – but such confusion is nothing compared to that experienced by the show itself. The basic premise is that of a children’s TV programme peopled by oddball animals, sadomasochistic puppets and an overbearing narrator who manipulates and controls for her own pleasure.
The idea itself is an interesting one and certainly has potential for innovative, absurdist humour. Unfortunately, the comedy of the situation is poorly handled, with the jokes either puerile and obvious or too weird and obscure to be intelligible. Although the narration highlights the existence of a script, the writing is so haphazard and rudderless that the cast could easily be making it up as they go along, resulting in a disjointed and unsuccessful production.
What’s worse is that the show doesn’t seem to know who its market is. Underneath all of the silliness and surrealism, it appears to be genuinely attempting to impart valuable life truths about the nature of growing up and belonging. This would be all well and good if it was aimed at children or even teenagers, but a smattering of obscenities, violence and cack-handed quips (including one particularly insensitive jibe about paedophilia) rules out the presence of a younger audience completely.
As such, we have a group of very young adults lecturing an audience which is unanimously older than themselves about the importance of “being yourself” and “never forgetting where you come from”, veering dangerously close to the stuff of disposable pop songs. The obvious enthusiasm of the cast counts in its favour, and its heart seems to be in the right place, but poor writing, awkward attempts at audience interaction and unconvincing acting let it down dreadfully.
This is a very youthful production company and they have shown a good deal of pluck in coming to the largest arts festival in the world. Unfortunately, their show is nowhere near the finished product and would have benefited immensely from a critical eye and some major surgery before their Edinburgh run. Full marks for effort – but put this one back in the oven, it’s far from done yet.