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Off The Middle return with their new production Lead Suspect


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Off The Middle return in July with their new production Lead Suspect. A classic murder mystery with a twist; this time dogs are solving the crime.

This new, exciting company are currently presenting two original plays. Their previous production In Other Words received astounding reviews and this next production is sure to cement them as one of the best up-and-coming theatre companies around.

Off The Middle co-founder and writer of Lead Suspect Stephanie Withers

I caught up with co-founder and writer of Lead Suspect, Stephanie Withers, to find out more about their latest project.

“Two years ago there was a dog that got poisoned at Crufts,” Stephanie tells me, “It was one of the prize-winning dogs, and it sparked massive suspicion and panic at the dog show. When I heard this I thought it was an excellent, and potentially very funny idea for a show, so the play is kind of a spoof of that.

“It’s set at fictional local dog show where the dogs decide to work out who the murderer is and solve the crime.”

The production promises to be fast-paced, hilarious and very physical. Having completed her MA in Physical Theatre, Stephanie took inspiration from this when creating the show.

“We did lots of Le Coq, physical theatre and animal studies and lots of devised shows where characters would be made from animalistic qualities.

"So when the poisoning at the dog show happened I was like: Can we take that animal study one step further and as opposed to being a horse or a cow or a chicken, can you be a Labrador, a Poodle and a Jack Russell?”

Image courtesy of Phoebe Fairbrother

Off The Middle are a theatre company that seek to push the boundaries with the audience and with the work they produce. Pushing animal studies towards breeds as opposed to species is one example of how they do this.

“There are three actors in the show; one constantly plays Scott the Scottish Terrier. The dog detective, he’s like the Poirot or the Sherlock Holmes.

“Then the two other actors play in multi-role all the other dog characters, so they take on the physicality, temperaments and traits of the different breeds much more.

"So we have a kind of hyper-aggressive Jack Russell, who’s just bouncing around and you’ve got a glamourous Setter who’s elegant and poised. The actors aren’t playing on all fours but they’re taking the energy and the rhythm and the traits. But then suddenly will break into dog mannerisms like sniffing each other’s bums or digging mid-conversation.”

Lead Suspect is all about a new theatrical experience for an audience. It’s combining multitudes of technique, humour and experimenting with character. The play explores much more than just actors being dogs.

“We tried to study the dogs and bring in a different quality for the different breeds but the more we did that it just didn’t feel like that was the story we were trying to tell,” Stephanie tells me; “and actually we were trying to tell this more clown like ridiculous show and that the actors were playing dogs as opposed to actors becoming dogs.

“I think that was the transition. That was really important for me as a writer so I rejigged the script around so there was more engagement with the audience and it was more interactive rather than serious drama.

“I love the balance between the clown like and ridiculousness on stage, exploring the physical bounds and not being afraid to look like a complete fool. I think it’s something really special for the audience because you’re allowed to laugh at this person and they’re willing you to do it. It’s a different theatrical experience.”

On the surface, a dog murder mystery may sound like a fun, family show but since its production began two years ago, the play has adapted and consequently, so has its audience.

“We’ve played around with it and written different versions and originally I kind of thought ‘great it’s a family show’ but the more I wrote it, the more rude and naughty it became.

“We did a week long residency in January at The Cockpit and we got it on its feet and we just found there was a lot of naughty innuendo in it. You know like sniffing each other’s bums, humping, these kind of things that weren’t really family friendly!

"So I have made it more of an adult show. It’s got a Simpsons-esque humour, you have that cheeky innuendo coming through.”

The play has three performers and eight characters. It’s a demanding show for the actors and I was keen to find out how you cast a dog.

“I think someone who’s got a lot of energy, someone who is naturally funny,” says Stephanie, “You need someone entertaining and not feeling uncomfortable.

"We had the auditions in January and it was so fun. We got to play with eight actors in a workshop audition. We just talked about dogs all day and tried to find the physicality and find the person who could mimic the qualities of the dog.”

In Other Words, Off The Middle’s previous production, explored the relationship of Arthur and Jane over 50 years as Arthur sadly develops Alzheimer’s. It is a stark contrast to the new comedic production written by Withers.

“We had both ideas many years ago now and the thing that relates them is the audience relationship with the performer being able to talk openly. I think that’s what links them.

“That’s what we’re both really interested in. The storytelling style, having that open relationship with the audience and having that fluidity to be able to break rules and be imaginative and creative and playful whether that be In Other Words jumping through a 50 year time period, or imagining you’re playing dogs.

“We thought let’s do something completely different. We’re creative and dynamic and we have different skills within us as a team so why not.”

Lead Suspect will run at The Kings Head Theatre from 17th – 20th July 2017. Tickets £12 Box Office: 0207 226 8561

To get your paws on some cheap tickets if you are a student, enter the code ‘doggystyle’ when purchasing a ticket and go to the show with a valid student card for student discount.

Or for £10 tickets post a selfie of you and a dog and tag @KingsHeadThtr #leadsuspect on Twitter or post a seflie of you and a dog with #leadsuspect and like Off the Middle on Facebook.

You can find out more about Off The Middle here.

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