BWW Review: DEAD DOG IN A SUITCASE (AND OTHER LOVE SONGS), Lyric Hammersmith
"Bring it down. Bring it all down and start again!" An unexpected European election day in the UK and anticipation of Theresa May's resignation formed the backdrop for Kneehigh's London press night for Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), making its presence more vital than ever - and its message more potent. Carl Grose and Charles Hazlewood's show, which was first performed in 2014, is based on John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, taking the characters and hurling them into the present day.
On the brink of his bid to be re-elected, Mayor Goodman (and his dog Toby) are found dead. The word is that legendary contract killer Macheath is the one who pulled the trigger, but he is known for being elusive; the identity of his employer, however, is more of a mystery to Chief of Police Colin Lockit. Life goes on and a new mayor must be elected - local impresario Les Peachum seems like a natural candidate, and he seems all set to win with the greatest of ease. Little do the Peachums know that their daughter Polly has run off to be with Macheath, though his relationship with Lockit's daughter Lucy also seems rather intimate...
It's really remarkable how art can endure; this show feels like it was written yesterday rather than several years ago, and even the source material is incredibly relevant despite approaching its 300th birthday. The show perfectly captures the present political climate, as well as the atmosphere that this has created. "It ain't like the old days", bemoans the prison officer, to which Macheath points out the fact that they've just brought back hanging - something that seems eerily familiar when you think of a certain right-wing political party.
The sense of a will for revolution and change is there in Kneehigh's typically anarchic storytelling, especially with the brashness of Hazlewood's score and the appearance of the Macheath-like Mr Punch, weaving in and out of the plot with his usual associates. Puppet director Sarah Wright has outdone herself again with her ever so slightly twisted designs for these puppets, as well as killer monkey Joey, several foul-mouthed babies and the titular dog.
Though it has an undeniably dark heart, Dead Dog in a Suitcase is a very funny show, made all the more enjoyable for some standout performances from the cast. You definitely wouldn't want to mess with Beverly Rudd's Lucy Lockit; her performances of "Ninja Butterfly" pack a real punch.
Rina Fatania has impeccable comic timing, stealing scenes left, right and centre with the slightest look or line. Dominic Marsh is impressive as the near-omnipresent anti-hero Macheath, at once inspiring and quite hateful; he commits some truly terrible deeds, but his final cry (inciting the world to revolution) is instantly seared onto your brain.
This is classic Kneehigh fare, and a lively way to spend two and a half hours in the theatre. The spirit of John Gay echoes through the ages, arriving in the 21st century kicking and screaming; an ode to political instability and a real call to arms.
Picture credit: Steve Tanner