Dead Dog In A Suitcase (And Other Love Songs)
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Written by Carl Grose, Music by Charles Hazelwood
Directed by Mike Shepherd
Reviewer: Sam Chipman
Based on The Beggar’s Opera, John Gay’s classic musical satire and possible first introduction of the jukebox musical, Dead Dog In A Suitcase (And Other Love Songs) is a modern-day take on the classic tale. The story satirises politics, poverty and injustice, focusing on the theme of corruption at all levels of society – a message as prevalent today as ever.
Macheath is re-conceived as a contract hitman, who dispatches a dog as he fears it a witness; but besides this, Grose stays close to the original story line. Renaissance polyphony with psychedelia, ska with grime and dubstep make up the eclectic mix of music to complete the updated feel.
Kneehigh’s productions always have a certain element of the circus about them. Caricatured characters, use of puppets and elements of physical theatre. One expects their bold, artistic choices to divide opinion according to taste. There is merit in their choices, but there are times where they seem to make an absurd choice just for the sake of being abstract – however they are audaciously original, without question.
The use of Punch & Judy type puppets adds to the absurdity of the situation the characters find themselves in, the action on stage is often mirrored by the puppets to good effect. The puppets allow the company to directly address the audience and point the audiences attention to the message conveyed in a very Brechtian fashion.
Musically, good use is made of thematic material, and the musicians accompany well much like a film score when required. The songs atmospheric and witty in parts, but not incredibly memorable. The set, with its climbing frame layout, is innovative, but too busy and distracting at times – even without considering the fact the audience can see the goings in the wings and backstage.
Dominic Marsh is suitably charming in the role of anti-hero, Macheath. Despite his murdering of respected politicians and animals, he gets the audience on his side; essential for the piece to convey its message. Macheath steals the heart of Polly Peachum, played by fine voiced Angela Hardie, who brings a softness and sense of purity to a town of filth and corruption. Jack Shalloo gives perhaps the standout performance of the evening, showing a great deal of versatility in his two roles; and he sings beautifully. Rina Fatania gives a bold and vulgar turn as Mrs Peachum, though has a tendency to play for the cheap laugh. Credit where it is due to the rest of the cast, who are able musicians and performers in their own rights.
The piece holds society to account for its corruption, making full use of Brechtian techniques to harness its strong anti-establishment message – suggesting the capitalism has burned itself out and is coming to an end. The first act feels somewhat of a dirge, despite only runs at 1hr 10 (approx), but the pace and momentum kicks on in a thrilling Act 2 and it races towards the climatic, if not slightly overbaked, finale.
Absolute chaos in ways – but this is brave, explosive theatre that is certainly worth a watch for fans of pioneering work.
Runs until 3rd October 2015 (on tour until 12th December 2015)