Writer: Carl Grose
Music: Charles Hazlewood
Director: Mike Shepherd
Reviewer: Katherine Kirwin
Kneehigh burst onto the stage at HOME in their recognisably energetic, playful style and dragged us into their dark musical portraying a world hanging by a thread. Dead Dog in a Suitcase is based on John Gay’s A Beggar’s Opera and Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera and has been transposed into a modern, dark, twisted world of immorality, murder and corruption. Having read the source material, the director Mike Shepherd took away from it: “the world is poor and man’s a shit”.
Macheath is now a contract killer hired to kill the last good man in town by Les Peachum, the shady wheeler-dealer looking to become mayor, aided and abetted by his hideously grotesque and hilarious wife played in a starring turn by Rina Fatania. Macheath’s marriage to their daughter Polly Peachum puts a spanner in their plans of domination and Macheath’s corrupt world starts to turn against him. Macheath is played with a swagger and charm by Dominic Marsh which causes the audience to stay on his side even at his most heinous and immoral.
Yet for all of its bleakness this is a production which is surprisingly fun and entertaining, it’s comedy veering towards the anarchic, black and absurd. The puppetry is put to fantastic use creating light moments from the eponymous dog to Macheath’s cabbage-patch children singing sweet songs of abuse to him. The continuous analogy of Punch ‘n’ Judy highlights the perpetual circle of abuse and corruption, and also Punch acts, at points, as a fool interacting with Macheath on the audience’s behalf: “What a dickhead”
Kneehigh’s style is exuberant, rough and ready, and is bursting at the seams with creativity. The music is exciting in its wide-spanning influences from punk and disco to electro and folk, and the cast prove their talents playing numerous instruments and singing. The music of sweet Polly Peachum (Angela Hardie) particularly her folk-style, bard ballad pleading for Macheath’s life contrasts in the world of darkness around her, particularly against the rock warblings of corrupt police inspector (Giles King) and his daughter Lucy Lockit (Beverly Rudd).
The message of morality about the state of the modern world and our rôle in its destruction and corruption becomes slightly too in-yer-face towards the end of the production. The anarchy and explosiveness of the production’s ending was entertaining but a satire works more powerfully when we are allowed to draw our own parallels and consequences from it rather than having the dead dog shoved in our face.