Kneehigh have returned with this pitch black musical based on John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, and it is everything you might expect from the company – loud, rude, quirky, and extremely professional.
Macheath (or Heathcliff Keith Macheath in this version) is a killer for hire, and we see him rub out an opponent of the Peachums in the race for Mayor, as well as the man’s dog.
He’s got the daughter of the police chief, petty criminal Lucy Lockit, pregnant, and he marries sweet Polly Peachum, heir to the fortune of her conniving parents.
The National Theatre put on a production of The Threepenny Opera in 2016, which was the Brecht-Weill play with songs based on Gay’s original. Dead Dog In A Suitcase boasts a script by Carl Grose and music by Charles Hazlewood.
Kneehigh have blended physical theatre, songs, puppets (from the Little Angel workshop), humour, actor-musicians and profanity into a knock-out show for contemporary times.
In a complex set by Michael Vale with includes a climbing frame, stairs, platforms and a slide, scenes can change quickly and the most use can be made of the stage, with mime, lighting and sound effects evoking anything from a jail cell to a lonely pier at night.
With a Punch and Judy show, some song snippets set to the tune of Greensleeves, red handkerchiefs to denote blood, and constant swapping of suitcases so we never know where the titular Dead Dog is, this show is frenetic, very funny, and borderline disturbing.
In the cast, Dominic Marsh is good as the ever-watchful and sharp-suited Macheath, Martin Hyder and Rina Fatania are excellent as the nasty Peachums, and Angela Hardie and Beverly Rudd are effective as Polly and Lucy – girls who have to get tough to survive in their town.
Long-time Kneehigh member Patrycja Kujawska plays the widow Goodman and the violin, while Giles King is both an obsessional and psychotic kilted Lockit and a kinky boots-wearing good-time girl. Georgia Frost plays a variety of roles including the decent henchman Filch and the unfortunate jailer Terry.
This show may not be to everyone’s taste, but I found it clever, subversive and very relevant to where the world is heading right now. Writer Carl Grose and director Mike Shepherd both allude to this in their programme notes, as well as giving a hint of where this artist-led company gets its ideas.
Dead Dog In A Suitcase (and other love songs) is currently running at the Lyric Hammersmith until the 15 June. The show is co-produced by Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse.
Photo credits – Steve Tanner.
For details on the show and to book for London, Exeter, Cheltenham or Bristol go to the Kneehigh website.