BWW Review: DEAD DOG IN A SUITCASE (AND OTHER LOVE SONGS), Bristol Old Vic
'Bring it down, bring it all down' is the anarchic cry from Macheath in Kneehigh's take on The Beggar's Opera. John Gray's original is given the full Kneehigh treatment- the original is not a constraint but a jumping off point. Perhaps the slide in the middle of Michael Vale's set is the physical manifestation of Kneehigh's ever playful nature.
Five years on from the original 2014 production and writer Carl Grose's script feels worryingly familiar. The corrupt rich are running the show, rigging elections and treating those underneath them with contempt. It's a world of crime and deceit, where its participants are keen to the blame the town rather than look at themselves.
Contract killer Macheath is given both a devilish, boyish charm and later a world weariness by Dominic Marsh as he manoeuvres his way past the police, charms Polly Peachum and tries to satisfy his harem of previous lovers. He helpfully keeps the narrative on track as it occasionally threatens to meander away.
As we've come to expect with Kneehigh, this is storytelling without restriction. If theatre can sometimes being predictable, then Kneehigh are here to grab you from your seat and vigorously shake you before putting you back down with a kiss. It's a feeling that permeates the work- from Michael Vale's set that begs to be climbed in and out of through to Sarah Wright's playful puppets that allows the ensemble to engage in the most creative of storytelling.
However, it is probably down to Charles Hazlewood's score that Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) works as well as it does. He's grabbed bits of rock, electro, jazz, swing and ska and put them all in the mixer. They reflect musical taste in the same way Gray's original would have done. They may not be familiar but there a little earworms throughout.
Kneehigh's work is always about the strength of the ensemble but the night surely belongs to Georgia Frost. A recent graduate of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School she has the opportunity to showcase her powerhouse voice and slapstick ability in bucket loads. Time to mark that name down.
Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) continues to thrill with its climatic end and even if occasionally there are so many ideas being thrown into the mix it loses focus, you'd rather your senses be overwhelmed than under. It might only be Kneehigh who get flies to buzz around a dead dog's corpse and still get a laugh. For that alone, you take your hat off.
Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) at Bristol Old Vic until 13/07/19
Photo credit: Steve Tanner