Glass reviews Lead Suspect at the Kings Head Theatre, London

OFF The Middle’s last piece of theatre earlier this year, In Other Words, tackled issues around dementia and the power of music to help sufferers remember. Stephanie Wither’s latest venture, Lead Suspect, is a much more upbeat, light-hearted play centred around a group of furry four-legged friends and a dramatic murder mystery at the renowned Swindon Dog Show.

Paul Hilliar and Stephanie de WhalleyPaul Hilliar and Stephanie de Whalley in Lead Suspect

Inspired by the Crufts poisoning scandal of 2015, Withers’ pun-tastic whodunnit at the Kings Head Theatre is bursting with humorous characterisation, inspiring physical theatre and dog gags galore. Three actors impressively multi-role between eight canine characters including Scott the Scottish Terrier, Pandora the Poodle and Serena the Setter. Serena is the new dog on the block and has the other pups quaking in their boots as she threatens to steal the crown.

Stephanie de WhalleyStephanie de Whalley

With her shiny coat and impeccable behaviour, it’s no wonder the other dogs are jealous. In a dramatic turn, Serena is found to be poisoned and the quest to find her murderer begins. Thanks to PC (German) Shepherd and number 1 detective dog, Scott, the audience are taken along for the ride as the truth unfolds in this hour long adventure.

Paul HilliarPaul Hilliar in Lead Suspect

There is something extremely impressive and endearing about an entire play delivered through the eyes of dogs. Humans soon become totally irrelevant as we trust the opinions of our new four-legged pals and start to understand their different quirks and personalities. Liam Mansfield is charismatic and hilarious as Scott, keeping the whole piece together, climaxing in a hilariously memorable physical theatre display to the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Enya’s Only Time. If anything, the piece could have benefited from even more moments like this, as Withers’ strong points is definitely in physical theatre.

Stephanie de WhalleyStephanie de Whalley in Lead Suspect

Stephanie de Whalley’s character swaps were frantic yet cleverly delivered, especially in the ending scenes where she plays two different dogs at the same time, only swapping ear muffs for a police hat to differentiate between herself. The most notable performance comes from Paul Hilliar, whose character transformations are particularly standout from deliciously dry diva, Fluffy the Chihuahua to oddball Spud, Serena’s not so graceful brother.

Liam MansfieldLiam Mansfield in Lead Suspect

The cast give a fantastic effort to maintain their doggy disguises, plenty of leg cocking, bum sniffing and panting, causing for many an amusing moment, particularly when one dog repeatedly mishears ‘door keys’ as ‘walkies’ and goes into an absolute frenzy. Unfortunately parts of Lead Suspect were let down by some clumsy scene transitions and awkward forgotten lines, but then again, this added to the farcical, fast paced nature of the play. If you love a pun-a-minute, liberally laced with some catty comments and bitchy backchat, this is for you.

by Heather Doughty

Lead Suspect is on until July 20 at the Kings Head Theatre, Islington

115 Upper Street, Greater London N1 1QN

@OTM_Theatre @PaulHilliar @steph_withers @StephdeWhalley @liammansfield @KingsHeadThtr