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Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) at the Lyric Hammersmith

Dominic Marsh as Macheath in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) (c) Steve Tanner.
Dominic Marsh as Macheath in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) (c) Steve Tanner.

Well, seeing as there is a dead dog in a suitcase in a show with a title that says as much, I suppose there’s little harm in revealing that there’s a reprieve for the convict Macheath (a highly convincing Dominic Marsh), as there is in The Beggar’s Opera, on which this show is based. But it comes in the form of an unexpected late twist, which had some people in the audience gasping, with justification – but it shows the agility of Macheath. There’s a reason why he continues to escape the clutches of Colin Lockit (Giles King), who makes every effort to have him captured – and at one point, succeeds, at least for a while: he’s very, very good at what he does and living his kind of lifestyle.

The production comes across as something deliberately commissioned to incorporate as many different genres of music as possible, irrespective of whether it is the best-suited style at any given point in the narrative. There are, for instance, sudden and discordant blasts of loud music with lyrics that serve only to underline a point already made. At the close of such a song, then, all I could think was, “So what?” There is, at least, some good actor-musicianship to enjoy (Patrycja Kujawska’s violin playing was a particular stand-out for me), with most members of the on-stage band leaving their positions whenever the need arose to form Macheath’s ‘gang’. And Filch (Georgia Frost) brings the house down in a song that had her riffing and demonstrating vocal dexterity.

The use of puppetry allows the production to heed the old adage to avoid working in theatre with children or animals. Given the dark nature of the storyline, that is probably just as well. A bunch of presumably illegitimate babies is too much for Macheath to handle. The set is on three levels, the higher ones reached by staircases, and at various points descended by them – or by way of a wooden slide (no idea why) or a fireman’s pole, which did made sense, when it was used in the context of a rather seedy establishment called The Slammerkin. The back of the stage had what looked to me like the sort of climbing apparatus apparently still found in school gymnasiums. Rina Fatania’s Mrs Peachum had good comic timing and excellent stage presence – it was so delightful seeing her facial expressions and reactions to the events in the play. This is, after all, a Kneehigh production – so, if it isn’t at least a bit bizarre then something isn’t quite going to plan. At some point, I gave up trying to make sense of it all and just went with the flow: even so, it is still rather exhausting to watch. On the other hand, it held my attention throughout, though the sudden scene changes reminded me of my student days when I had downtime. I would flick through various satellite television channels, watch something vaguely of interest for a few minutes, get a little bored, and turn over to something else. Here, in a split second, the stage could go from near silence to noisy with a capital N, from just about being able to see anything at all to being bathed in white light.

The play ultimately has little to offer that a more solidly faithful revival of The Beggar’s Opera would have provided, in terms of food for thought and wider themes about, for instance, corruption and family ties. With that in mind, I am grateful that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is aware of theatrical conventions and clichés, and seeks to overturn many of them, which is somewhat entertaining. But when the new mayor, Les Peachum (Martin Hyder), legislates to ‘bring back hanging’, Macheath is right to ask what the world is coming to. The production didn’t have much, if any, emotional impact, although it is impressive in its ability to be light-hearted and furious in equal measure.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Mayor Goodman’s been assassinated. And so has his dog. MacHeath the contract killer is dangerously on the loose. What the hell is the world coming to?

This radical re-working of John Gay’s notorious musical satire and political comedy The Beggar’s Opera, shines a contemporary light on greed and corruption to create a twisted morality tale for our times.

Using their legendary mix of puppetry, physical theatre and live music, the extraordinary cast of actor-musicians hoot and shimmy through this timeless story of power and lies.

A Kneehigh with Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse production.

The ensemble includes Rina Fatania, Georgia Frost, James Gow, Angela Hardie, Martin Hyder, Dave Johnzy, Giles King, Patrycja Kujawska, Lucy Rivers, Alex Lupo, Dominic Marsh, Beverly Rudd, Sarah Wright and Tim Dalling.

Director Mike Shepherd
Writer Carl Grose
Composer & Music Director Charles Hazlewood
Designer Michael Vale
Lighting Designer Malcolm Rippeth
Sound Designers Ian Davies & Jay Jones
Choreographer Etta Murfitt
Puppets Director Sarah Wright

Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs)
Thursday 23 May at 7pm
Lyric Hammersmith, King Street, Lyric Square, W6 0QL
Book tickets for the Lyric Hammersmith


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