Writer: Carl Grose
Music: Charles Hazlewood
Director: Mike Shepherd
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
There is unlikely to be a more intriguing title for a show this year than Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), a new co-production between the Everyman and Cornwall-based theatre company Kneehigh. The inaugural Everyman season has already tackled the traditional and local stories in Twelfth Night and Hope Place, but here branches out into a bold and exciting new direction.
Dead Dog in a Suitcase is an updated re-telling of The Beggar’s Opera, a piece first performed in 1728 that satirised both opera and the injustices and corruption in society. The story may be hundreds of years old but writer Carl Grose shows the themes to be as relevant as ever. Just as John Gay’s original used samples of popular music at the time, here composer Charles Hazlewood utilises a variety of contemporary musical styles, from yearning ballads to rousing rock anthems. The former are perhaps more successful than the latter, but they all undoubtedly capture the mood of the characters perfectly.
The plot itself sticks relatively close to the original, although no prior knowledge is required. Renowned local criminal Macheath is hired by corrupt mayoral candidate Les Peachum to kill his rival, Mayor Goodman, but with the deed done and Macheath torn between a life of love or a life of crime, things quickly and inevitably begin to unravel.
The tale unfolds with the aid of Punch &Judy style puppetry, tightly choreographed dance numbers, and memorable uses of aerial and physical theatre; suffice to say this is definitely a show that needs to be seen rather than described. The cast climb up or slide down Michael Vale’s vast scaffolding-style set and Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting design bathes the stage in block colours of red or blue to ratchet up the atmosphere.
A cast of actor-musicians perform superbly throughout; their differing vocal tones blend beautifully and there is some extraordinary musicianship on display, particularly from Patrycja Kujawska on the violin. In a strong ensemble there are still standout performances from Dominic Marsh as a charismatic Macheath, Rina Fatania as the Machiavellian Mrs Peachum, Andrew Durand as the sweet natured Fitch and Carly Bawden as Polly Peachum, whose act two showstopper is a particular highlight.
Ultimately Dead Dog in a Suitcase is a truly collaborative piece however and when the performances, music and design combine, there is real theatrical magic. It will make you laugh, it will make you gasp and it will draw you immediately into its anarchic world. With programming as diverse and inventive as this, the future of the Everyman seems very exciting indeed.
Photo: Steve Tanner | Runs until 12th July