This 2014 show, which premiered in Liverpool and is now showing at the Lyric Hammersmith, goes back to John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, a sharp satire on the corruption and immorality of life and politics in 18th century Britain.
Kneehigh bring it forward to our times and make it even sharper, funnier and gradually more uncomfortable. Composer Charles Hazlewood and writer Carl Grose have created a completely new score and text, the storyline meant, in Grose’s own words, to ask the questions Gay was asking, but in terms of a world ‘that feels very strange right now;’ and the score a hectic mix of disco, new wave, grime, and punk, as well as 18th century counterpoint.
So very Kneehigh.
Our anti-hero is Macheath, a ruthless hitman and charmer, a combination that proves irresistible to women, be they ladies of the night or cosseted young misses. Hired to kill Mayor Goodman, he kills the Mayor’s dog, too, arguing he was ‘a witness’. The dog, incidentally, is a cute and very realistic puppet, skilfully operated by one of Kneehigh’s puppeteers.
The crime was commissioned by the Peachums, rich owners of an industrial empire that includes fish factories and hair products. Les Peachum wants to become Mayor, and duly does so through blatant vote rigging by his daunting wife. About Mrs Peachum we shall discover a lot more later in the show.
Macheath marries the Peachums’ rather dull daughter, Polly. You can just see, can’t you? how that will go down with her parents…
These are the barebones of a story that becomes ever more complicated as it develops, uncovering more and more layers of corruption, debauchery, double and treble dealing and a general climate of amorality, where anything goes.
Dead Dog in a Suitcase – the reason for the title becomes apparent as the show develops – is played on a stage that reaches up to the rafters, with various levels and climbing structures, making for a performance that's both horizontal and vertical, which creates a feeling of total theatre.
Kneehigh’s versatile cast of 12 act, sing, dance, play a variety of roles with equal plausibility, play musical instruments and manipulate their various puppets with skill and verve.
A particularly effective device in this production is an ever-present Punch and Judy show, that enters the action at regular intervals partly as a Greek chorus, providing a grotesque commentary on events, partly as a distorting mirror.
You reach the interval amused and energised, not sure where the show is leading you, but very happy to be led there. Don’t be fooled: the second half is a lot darker, and although a little overlong, still packs a powerful punch.
So Kneehigh’s Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) is very much a complete show, that skilfully blends high octane entertainment, social criticism and quite a bit of food for though.
Age Guidance: 14+
Audio Described Performance: Sat, 8 June 19:30
Open Captioned Performance: Sat, 8 June 14:30
|What||Kneehigh, Dead Dog in a Suitcase Review|
|Where||Lyric Hammersmith, Lyric Square, King St, W6 0QL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Hammersmith (All lines) (underground)|
21 May 19 – 15 Jun 19, 19:30 (Thu 23 May 19:00) mat Wed 13:30, Sat 14:30 Dur.: 2 hours 30 mins inc one interval
|Price||£15-£42 (concessions available)|
|Website||Click here to book via the Lyric Hammersmith|