Writer: Carl Grose
Music: Charles Hazlewood
Director: Mike Shepherd
Reviewer: Stephen M Hornby
A menacing stage picture greets the audience on arrival. Blackened scaffolding can be seen through the fog that hangs mid-air. It stretches from floor to ceiling, suggested a skyline of polluted brick in a broken city. Figures mill about in the shadows of the stage and around the auditorium. They climb over the set, taking up positions to observe the punters with an aggressively defiant stare. A base discordant note heralds the start of the play and within a few minutes a twin assassination has occurred. This is not going to be the kind of musical that you leave the theatre humming the tunes to.
The plot for Dead Dog In A Suitcase (and other love songs) draws self-consciously from both The Beggar’s Opera and The Threepenny Opera. Macheath is a gun to hire, willing to kill anyone for the right fee, even a politician that he might himself have voted for himself. The titular canine is exterminated without the slightest compunction. He is ruthless and amoral. He is soon wooing Polly Peachum, the daughter of a would-be politician who finds the match something less than ideal in the run up an election. Worse Lucy Lockit is pregnant and the father is Macheath. This is a world where love is doomed, selfishness reigns and everyone gets away with as much as they possibly can in the face of a police system controlled by politicians for commercial ends. The updating of the plot by Carl Grose is mostly successful though it isn’t quite as scabrous a satire as it thinks it is. If in reality, most people assume politicians to be self-serving and corrupt, simply demonstrating this lacks any real shock or impact. After the news recently has been of a trusted brand like Volkswagen falsifying air pollution results systematically, cynically and at scale, the Peachum’s poisoned pilchards perhaps lacks some punch.
The music by Charles Hazlewood is vastly eclectic and suits the piece brilliantly. The re-working of songs and all the new material is pithy, sharp, sometimes advances the show’s narrative and at others provides additional expression to the characters at key points in the plot. The musicians are dressed as characters and manifest in various places on set and in the auditorium and the actors take up instruments so the band is thoroughly woven into the fabric of the show.
This is a strong cast, delivering a challenging style with great success. Lines are often played as much to the audience as to fellow actors creating, at moments, the kind of connection a wrestling audience has to it performers. We’re involved and delighted by the playing out of the conflict line by line and so the segue into a song seems natural and obvious at every point. Dominic Marsh is a brash, slightly foppish Macheath. Rina Fatania is fabulous as Mrs Peachum, dressed in Pat Butcher chic, and Martin Hyder attacks Mr Peachum with gusto and an equally shocking dress sense. Beverly Rudd provides a wonderfully lascivious Lucy Lockit. Special mention must also go to Sarah Wright who is a menacing spectral presence as well as being an excellent Punch Puppeteer.
This musical re-imagining of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera is certainly dark, occasionally delightful and thoroughly demented.
Runs until Sat 14 November 2015| Image: Steve Tanner