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© Helicon Magazine 2019

University of Bristol

 

One Less Bowl to Lick

Josie Hunt

Award-winning director-playwright Josie Hunt's Seussian adaptation of a political cartoon for the stage brings Brexit back to where it belongs: the children's theatre.

Gatis Šļūka -- One Less Bowl to Lick

ONE LESS BOWL TO LICK

To be split between an ensemble of 5 – 8.

 

PROLOGUE

 

Have you heard of this curious word?

This word Brexit’s really absurd.

Perhaps you’ve heard it in conversations,

On Facebook, TV or radio stations.

It’s seemingly nonsense, two words put together.

What does it mean? How can we ever

understand it? Where to start?

I’ll try to explain – bear with me, it’s hard.

Was it a decision or was it a feeling?

Was it a mistake from which we are reeling?

You could call it a departure from Europe, I guess.

Fight, campaign or downright mess.

You could call it the breakage of ties,

Ties to the Union, or was it all lies?

Quite simply: it’s British and exit as one.

British. Exit. Brexit. Done.  (Ta-da gesture followed by a troubled expression).

 

Maybe it’s simpler to show you a land far away, 

Bowwow Town, where the dogs like to play…

 

ONE

 

The narrator of the prologue becomes a dog. The stage transforms into Bowwow Town. We see 28 kennels in a semi-circle and an ensemble of dogs enter. Costumes can be symbolic; the actors’ canine mannerisms should be clear. The set should have a cartoon-like feel to it. There is bouncy lively music as the stage is set.

 

In Bowwow Town we share with others,

We see ourselves as sisters and brothers.

There are 28 kennels to be exact,

We’re all part of this really big pact.

Just like a club – it’s actually quite cool,

The committee of dogs makes all the rules.

One from each kennel goes every year,

To Bowwsels to suss how it works for us here.

We call this the BU – Bowwow Union it means,

We all work together like a well-oiled machine.

There’s a Top Dawg in each kennel, whom we elect,

Based on how good their rules are and how we expect

them to lead us and confer with our mates,

On things like money and opening gates.

So who are the twenty-eight? I hear you cry!

We’ll give you a rundown, or at least we will try…

 

As each dog is introduced they pop out of their kennel. Drum roll and huge intake of breath from the speaker (spoken super quickly):

 

The British Bulldogs, the Austrian Pinschers, the Belgium Malinois, the Bulgarian Shepherds, Croatian Sheepdogs, Cypriot Poodles, the Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs, Danish Great Danes, Estonian Hounds, the Finnish Lapphunds, French Poodles, German Shepherds, Greek Kokonis,

the Hungarian Puli Sheepdog and the (republican) Irish Red Setter, the Italian Greyhounds, Latvian Huskies, Lithuanian Hounds and – does Luxembourg have a dog? The Maltese dogs, the Dutch Partridge dogs, the Polish Tatra Sheepdogs, Portuguese Water Dogs, Romanian street dogs, Slovakian Rough Haired Pointers, Slovenian Karst Shepherds, the Spanish Water Dog, and last but not least: the Swedish Vallhunds.

 

Round of applause from other dogs.

 

Each week, every kennel pays doggie-dollar,

In exchange, we get a BU collar.

Between kennels we can travel, come and go as we please,

To the Croatians, Bulgarians, Spanish, Portuguese.

Just for a holiday or to live if we wish.

We can share the bones from each other’s dish.

We trade and share food and dog mats,

Grooming kits, squeaky toys or little pup hats.

We also offer services: kennel construction,

Doga lessons or dog bowl production.

 

One thing to note, the British Bulldogs in town,

Don’t use doggie-dollar, they use pooch-pounds. 

A different name,

but it still works the same. 

 

We see the BU in action – all the dogs going about their business.

 

Italian Greyhound                        Buongiorno, bonjour, are you up for a trade?

French Poodle                                Dog mats for bones? Alright then, I’m swayed.

Latvian Husky                               Round up, round up, I’ve got luxury shampoo!

Belgian Malinois                           Anyone for dog jackets? I’ve got yellow and blue.

Bella Bulldog                                 Hey mum, I’m moving to study with the Estonian Hounds!

Bulldog Mum                                That’s great honey, go exchange your pooch-pounds. 

 

And so life went on, with trading and movements,

The BU committee came up with improvements.

They asked should we lend the Greek Kokonis some dollar,

(they were struggling in debt and living in squalor).

 

TWO

 

A dog runs on with a history book.

 

As a brief history: in the past long ago,

the kennels have had a couple of blows.

Wars and disagreements, we’re not squeaky clean,

there’s still tensions and issues – you know what I mean?

There’s problems around things such as borders:

stopping visitors from causing disorders.

The question is, how many is enough?

The kennels doing well, are finding it tough.

 

Betty Bulldog                                We’re hosting so many dogs not from our own.

Bruce Bulldog                               They must turn around and go back home!

Bella Bulldog                                They could say the same about me!

                                                         I don’t want to doggie paddle back over the sea!

Betty Bulldog                                Just because our bones are the best,

                                                         Shouldn’t mean we have to share with the rest.

Barney Bulldog                            But sharing is caring, isn’t that right?

Bruce Bulldog                               Not when that means you’re hungry tonight.

 

The matter’s not simple, in fact it’s a mess.

For the Dawgs up the top it’s causing some stress.

And then comes the question whether to spend,

Pooch-pounds on the club or to amend

the rules meaning we are all in,

Should we leave the BU? Throw our collar in the bin?

 

Bruce Bulldog                               I say we leave, keep our bones to ourselves,

                                                         We can do as we please, stock our own shelves.

Betty Bulldog                                I’m with you – it seems to make sense.

                                                         Increase the security of who comes through the fence.

Bella Bulldog                                Don’t you see, don’t you see? It’s a terrible plan!

                                                         We can’t just throw it all down the pan!

                                                         We must stick together, at least stay for now.

                                                         All of us dogs in the town of Bowwow.

Bruce Bulldog                               The kennel’s too cramped, there’s too many here,

                                                         Remember the old days, they’ve now disappeared.

                                                         When we ran the country in the way that we should,

                                                         Not chained down by others, don’t you think that was good?

Bella Bulldog                                No, no, no! Don’t you understand!?

                                                         It’s not as simple as that, you foolish old hound!

Barney Bulldog                            (To Bella Bulldog) Hush now, there’s no point teaching old dogs new                                                            tricks,

                                                         Let them think that if it gives them their kicks.  

 

Conversation rumbled, points on both sides,

It was so controversial – quite a divide!

Election time came, Top Dawg stood again,

Would another mutt boot him out of the pen?

 

Speaking to a crowd of dogs on a podium.

 

Top Dawg                                      I know there have been murmurings about the BU,

                                                         And I think it’s time we addressed it, from all points of view.

                                                         If you re-elect me as Top Dawg, I propose as so:

                                                         We hold a BU ruf-erendum, to vote yes or no.

 

This certainly created a buzz in the air,

Conversations were had almost everywhere…

…And then it happened. Top Dawg was back in,

He stood by the claim he’d made just to win.

He started to worry – do we really want out?

 

Top Dawg                                      I’m not really sure this was my best shout…

 

Too late! Sorry mate, you snooze then you lose.

You’ve said that you’ll do it, it’s all in the news.

Other dawgs near the top were happy however,

They thought it a great move, in fact rather clever.

So the campaigns started, leading up to the vote,

Kennels were scrawled on, with stay and leave quotes.

 

Kennels are graffiti-ed with STAY messages and LEAVE messages.

 

THREE

 

The campaigns follow. We see a LEAVE dog speak and then a STAY dog, both very enigmatically. The British Bulldogs run between them; some settle on one side, some keep switching, some stay in the middle. The campaigners are handing out flyers to the dogs and audience. It should be frantic and chaotic – a flurry of movement and energy.

 

Leave dog                                       Let us be free from the countries chaining us down,

                                                         In the BU in Bowwow Town.

                                                         All these rules on our kennel, let’s run it our way!

                                                         Decide where our money goes and who can stay.

                                                         We spend three fifty million pooch-pounds a week,

                                                         On our BU membership – doesn’t that sound bleak?

                                                         Imagine, just IMAGINE, what we could do with that money,

                                                         Oh there’s so many things it’s not even funny!

                                                         The vets need resources to make us all well,

                                                         We could give them money, it would be swell!

                                                         What are we getting back for our dollar?

                                                         Let’s leave I say! Get rid of this collar!

                                                         We share our bones, our blood, sweat and tears,

                                                         And what in return? There’s been nothing for years.

                                                         Let’s make this kennel ours – not go with the flow,

                                                         It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog world, and it’s time to go!

 

Stay dog                                         Time to be logical, let’s think it through,

                                                         Look at the facts – what we know to be true.

                                                         We share our bones and get things in return.

                                                         We can send bulldogs away for jobs and to learn.

                                                         And we get so much labour from other kennels,

                                                         They’re part of our life, they’re instrumental

                                                         in running our patch – without them we’re screwed,

                                                         We share our resources, our skills and our food.

                                                         They have rights too, we can’t send them away,

                                                         It’s not that simple, we can’t leave them for strays.

                                                         Why would we want to? We’re a tight twenty-eight,

                                                         We help each other, we’re genuine mates.

                                                         If we leave, the future’s unknown,

                                                         The pooch-pound might fall, we’ll be left all alone.

                                                         Which way are you voting? If you still don’t know,

                                                         Stick with the status quo and vote NO!

 

Music builds in the background – perhaps ‘Dog Eat Dog’ by AC/DC. The campaigners recite parts of their speeches at random, eventually just saying their last lines. They hand out leaflets to the audience. Over the music and speeches the lines below are heard. Rhyming has ceased as mistrust, confusion and misinformation takes over.

 

You’re barking mad, that’s what you are!

They won’t spend pooch-pounds on vets, it’s all lies!

Blood, sweat and tears!

STATUS QUO, STATUS QUO

They’re just trying to scare us, don’t listen to them, don’t listen!

We’re stronger in!

One less bowl to lick! One less bowl to lick!

VOTE LEAVE!

(Narrator to himself) They’re making a right dog’s breakfast of this.

Ad-lib.

 

At a dip in the commotion: A LEAVE voter tries to hand a STAY voter a leaflet.

Stay voter                                       You’re barking up the wrong tree mate.

 

The lines build to a crescendo. Echo sound effects around the room indicative of the ‘echo chamber’. Kennels are being drawn on in red and blue pens. The stage is a sea of colour – the two colours are half and half, with just slightly more blue…

 

Eventually, it stops. Everyone freezes and there’s silence.

 

FOUR

 

Thursday 23rd of June 2016.

Voting day.

Every British Bulldog must come make their mark,

In the voting kennel with a whine and a bark.

We must place our paw in the yes or the no,

It’s as simple as that, then we’re free to go.

 

One by one, the British Bulldogs make their vote. There is a mixture of emotions: confident, worried, undecided, indifferent, angry… Tense music backdrops the action.

 

They’ll count up the votes, then count them again,

We’ll all come running to hear and well then…

Wait with a pant to know the decision,

One thing’s for sure, it’s caused a division.

 

The voting-counter dogs bring in a huge pile of papers to sort into piles of ‘YES’ and ‘NO’. There should be some visible way to indicate the number of votes for each side.

 

Whilst they’re doing that, turn your attention,

To the other kennels, we’ve forgotten to mention.

What’s their reaction? Let’s find out quick.  

What would it mean, one less bowl to lick?

 

A dog-journalist holds up microphones:

 

Greek Kokoni                               I’m not really sure, I like licking their bowl,

                                                         I think I’m praying for a stay from the poll.

German Shepherd                       Well if they want to leave us, then whatever, that’s fine,

                                                         There’s no turning back if they change their mind.

Spanish Water Dog                      I don’t think they’ll go, this is a bluff,

                                                         Once this is over, they’ll get out of their huff. 

 

One less bowl to lick – is this good or bad?

A mixture of feelings: some happy, some sad.

Now the verdict comes, will we say goodbye?

Or was all this commotion, just to say ‘we tried’?

 

Counter                                          The result is in!

 

Everyone hurries around the Counters.

 

Counter                                          Please could I have a volunteer to read it out?

The Counter goes to the audience and finds a child to come up and read the result into a microphone. Everyone goes quiet.

 

Counter                                          (To audience) A drum roll please.

 

Audience member                        (reading from paper) 52 votes for Leave. 48 votes for Remain.

The British Bulldogs will leave the BU.

 

Counter                                            And there it is, ladies and gentlemen – so we’re going to leave.

Please give a round of applause as our reader takes his/her seat.

 

‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ by Baha Men starts playing. The dogs are all reacting to the news – various reactions. Some shocked, some rejoice, some confused, some angry.

 

FIVE

 

For weeks and months, we’ve argued this one through.

Now the verdicts in, we’re not sure what to do.

The British dogs have spoken, the dogs of Bowwow Town,

But there’s still a lot of faces, with deeply furrowed frowns.

There’s now so many questions, we want answers here and now!

What’s this going to mean, for the dogs of Bowwow-wow?

 

A dog wearing glasses stands in the centre answering the questions fired at him/her from the other dogs.

 

Q             Do we leave immediately?

A             The Lisbone Treaty means it’s not so easy,

                One things for sure, it’s not set to be breezy.

Q             What about the dogs that voted remain?

A             They have to lick or lump it, we have to stick as one,

                It wasn’t what they wanted, but now what’s done is done.

Q             Who is the Top Dawg now?

A             As it happens, Top Dawg has decided to step down,

                And a female has stepped up to run our little town.

Q             What if you’ve changed your mind and want to vote stay?

A             That my pup is what we call ‘too little and too late’,

                There are some who made a protest vote, but tough luck, sorry mate.

Q             Can we still enter the Bowwow vision song contest?

A             Oh yes, for sure, we can stay in that – funny you should ask, 

                But just a word of warning, we’ll definitely come last. 

 

EPILOGUE

 

A summary of Brexit – there you have it folks,

I hope you liked our metaphors, puns and witty jokes.

If you’re still confused, please just ask us questions!

We can hopefully offer some valuable suggestions.  

And one more thing before we go, just in case it’s foggy,

If anyone asks what Brexit is, please don’t tell them ‘doggies!’

 

THE END

 

PLAYWRIGHT’S AFTERWORD

   This is an adaptation of a political cartoon by Latvian artist Gatis Šļūka into a short piece of children’s theatre. The aim is to educate and inform children about the EU referendum and demystify the word ‘Brexit’, summarising and simplifying complicated ideas into something relatable and enjoyable. I envisage the piece being performed in theatres to families, as well as touring primary schools. I’ve therefore left production requirements and cast size flexible.

   Cartoons are often associated with children and political cartoons are renowned for “simplifying complex material” (Mattos, 1972: 20). However, they often demand a sophisticated process of interpretation and operate based on known symbols and references. To “decode the cartoon, one must be somewhat familiar with the literary or cultural source to which it refers” (Medhurst and DeSousa, 1981: 201). A child may recognise the British flag on the bulldog’s collar or even the EU flag on the kennel, but would they be aware of canine stereotypes or the nuances of the Brexit campaign? Theatre is therefore an apt medium to explain these more complex ideas; bringing the cartoon to life by creating characters and incorporating theatrical elements to engage young audiences.

   I have adapted the fundamental content of the source – the canine characters, the kennel, the dog bones and the British Bulldog breaking away. However, the process of adaptation is inherently interpretive. The “literary ‘work’ opens up to become transparent ‘text’ rendering itself available – as well as vulnerable – to a plethora of readings” (Sidiropoulou, 2011). In my research, people offered varied interpretations and reactions, much like the dogs in the kennel. I have encompassed these in my text and stage directions with the desire to create a balanced portrait of Brexit.

The cartoon was published amongst a collection of Brexit images which are more explicitly ‘remain’. However, I made the decision to keep the message as unbiased as possible, because: (1) the original can be interpreted either way and (2) my aim is to inform, not persuade. Benson has said: “Cartoonists have a role in democracy to catalyse debate” (in Conners, 2007: 262). Perhaps theatre shorts such as mine could have the same function in schools: informing, creating interest and catalysing debate in an engaging way.