Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) is an exhilarating, very funny, dark but beautiful piece of theatre.
In a brooding, menacing town, Mayor Goodman takes an evening stroll with his dog. As he walks, he dictates his thoughts, hinting at a murky discovery that he is about to expose. As a poo bag tossed to the back of the stage, lands back at his feet (yes that sets the tone for the whole crazy production), Goodman realises someone is in the shadows. Macheath, the mysterious gang leader, steps forward and shoots Goodman and his dog, setting in motion the action for the evening.
The Peachum’s are the local big business owners who have made their money in tinned pilchards and other enterprises. Les Peachum has designs on the Mayorship, groomed and egged-on by his wife, who has designs of her own. Their daughter Polly, dreams of love and escape from her grasping parents and the miserable bleak town. The Peachums are aided in their endeavours by loyal lackey Filch, played wonderfully by Georgia Frost. Filch is a good man in a bad world, wishing only to do the right thing in a town that celebrates wrongdoing.
The local police officer, Colin Lockit, considers it a stain on his reputation that Macheath remains at large but he is torn between doing what is right and doing what he is paid for by the Peachums. He is further distracted from his policing duties by his pregnant daughter Lucy and the mystery of who the baby’s father could be.
Dead Dog in a Suitcase is an updated, re-written version of ‘The Beggars Opera’ which was first performed in 1728. Working with the original themes and characters, Carl Gorse, the writer and Charles Hazelwood the composer, give us a bang-up-to-date piece that could not be more appropriate to the current political time. As ‘Rent’ is to ‘La Boheme’ so ‘Dead Dog’ is to ‘The Beggars Opera’.
The measure of a really great show is when one walks out thinking “when can I see that again?” There is so much going on at any moment on the stage (and at times off of it) that it is impossible to take everything in at first viewing. I found myself wanting to rewind the action to see it again. This is not to say that the piece is difficult to follow, just that there is so much going on around the edges of the main action that you need three sets of eyes to see it all!
Even in the best productions, there are generally one or two performers who stand out from the cast but in this show, every single actor is absolutely fantastic. It is hard to decide who provides the better comic turn between Beverley Rudd as Lucy Lockit and Rina Fatania as Mrs Peachum. Rudd’s rendition of “Ninja Butterfly” may just clinch it but both actors are brilliantly hilarious!
The work of Sarah Wright, the puppeteer, is utterly glorious, adding jet-black comedy to proceedings. The puppets, including some adorably vicious babies, are wonderful.
Patrycja Kujawska as Widow Goodman, shows great strength as both an actor and musician as she haunts the action, wandering the stage in mourning for her husband. She rages against the corruption of the town and people that has led to his death, while fiddling up a storm on her violin.
Dominic Marsh as the central character Macheath is very good, although early in the piece he is occasionally overshadowed by the strength of the performances around him. However, as the show moves towards its climax he is mesmerising. Martin Hyder as the hapless and hopeless Les Peachum and Giles King as Colin Lockit bring some real laugh out loud moments as well as some absolute mania to the show. Angela Hardy plays Polly Peachum beautifully from optimistic ingenue to vengeful scorned lover.
The set design is wonderful, with very clever use of a stage that is not particularly large. There is a slide as a central piece of the action which is intrinsically funny before anyone has actually used it. The staging is brilliant, somewhat reminiscent of ‘Hadestown’ with the band on the stage and involved in the action. The original music is fast and frenetic, in parts reminding me of the best of the musical American Idiot, at other times it seems to have a strong early 80s influence with shades of Madness (including Nutty Boys moves) Ian Dury and the Blockheads, and a hint of early Billy Bragg.
The performance, the comedy, the singing, the actors, the musicians and the staging are all exceptional – there are not enough superlatives to describe this performance. It is simply superb and I cannot wait to see it again!
Reviewed by Emma Heath
Photo: Steve Tanner
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