MOST people know about the new Everyman on Hope Street, but may not be familiar with the work of Kneehigh - a Cornish-based company with an established thirty-year reputation for creating distinctly anarchic and challenging theatrical productions. So, there was much anticipation over their joint collaboration to produce Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) - a fresh take on John Gay's "The Beggars Opera" of 1728.
The result is a bizarre but magnificent Private Eye-inspired Brechtian pantomime which has many resonances to the present day
The original caused a storm at the time, having disposed of upper-class pretentiousness and, instead, focused on popular songs and themes well-known to the everyday lives of the great unwashed. It was the music-hall of its day. Bringing it up to date meant two years planning, writing and composing to introduce a whole new range of storylines, musical interpretation and revolutionary stage direction, dialogue, set design and special effects.
Indeed, there's a poster at the front entrance of the Everyman which states " Warning - this show contains loud bangs, strong language and dodgy delights amidst corporate conspiracy, hit men and songs culled from the edge of existence".
And what a show it turns out to be. Show is, probably, too timid a description for an experience which embodies full-on theatre at its very best – a feast for the senses, moments of bittersweet tenderness amid the sordid cesspit of small-town jealousies and revenge, including some scenes which shock to the core. The plot is relatively simple, yet exquisitely performed by a cast of actors whose versatility and stage presence knows no bounds.
Briefly: hired hitman Macheath shoots Mayor Goodman under contract from corrupt pilchard/hair gel/concrete oligarch Les Peachum. His daughter, Polly, then secretly marries Macheath whilst Goodman’s widow vows justice. Chief of Police Lockit demands capture and incarceration whilst his daughter, Lucy, carries Macheath’s love-child. Peachum gets elected as the new mayor with help from his scheming wife and brings back hanging. Macheath seeks redemption until he rediscovers the Slammerkin.
Confusing? Perhaps, but outrageously so, and it is performed at a breakneck pace. And there is much more besides, like the ever-changing procession of suitcases which may [or may not] contain wads of cash, holiday gear or a dead dog and the extraordinary use of the adaptable staging, slides and props which required some dexterous choreography.
Special mention, too, of the welcome return of multiple marionettes and a cornucopia of puppets led by Mr Punch himself.
Credit must be given to a number of people within Kneehigh whose vision has brought this amazing show to life. They are director Mike Shepherd and in-house writer Carl Grose and composer/music director Charles Hazlewood whose score on this modern-day Hogarthian feast is a rich mix of electro disco, new wave, dubstep, noir, trip hop, punk and ska - not forgetting a bastardised Greensleeves and melodious Purcell counterpoints between Man and God. The cast’s pure vocals and instrumental virtuosity certainly gives extra life to his efforts and, at times, you’d swear you’d been transported back to the original Eric’s.
Characterwise, Dominic Marsh comes across as calculating, self-centred Macheath, a mix of Lee Harvey Oswald/Del Boy dressed as a ted, whilst Carly Bawden’s Polly metamorphoses from naïve cherub to gang moll after apparently drowning at the pier.
Both Rita Fatania and Martin Hyder, as the conniving Peachums embody the worst excesses of ambitious empire-building using Andrew Durand’s simpleton Filch as the innocent dogsbody. Patrycja Kujawska’s Widow Goodman is faultless throughout and Audrey Brisson’s Lucy Lockit is fabulous as the chanteuse Ninja Butterfly. Her father, Colin Lockit, played by Giles King, gives a thoroughly entertaining take as a manic Hogan-Howe in a kilt. Finally, considerable credit to Sarah Wright’s skills as master puppeteer without which the show would lose much of its magical appeal.
That said, every member of the rest of the cast and crew deserves praise since it is very much a communal performance. Every participant can act, sing, play an instrument [or three] and changes roles and costumes with ease. With the state-of-the-art technical wizardry the Everyman now offers, the result is a bizarre but magnificent Private-Eye inspired Brechtian pantomime which has many resonances to the present day whether it be lust for power, corrupt politics, illicit relationships, greed, retribution and sleazy underclass rivalries.
Finally, and to paraphrase the words of Professor Codman, “That’s the way they did it”. No surprise, then, that the company received a rapturous standing ovation whilst the stage smoke whirled around and glitter was still descending.
This show deserves a “must-see” recommendation, and a second visit would be well worth it. Take a friend, take several friends. It’s very likely you won’t see anything better on the stage in Liverpool this summer.
Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) runs until July 12. Evenings: 7.30pm (except Wed 2nd July)
Matinées: 1.30pm on Thursday 3rd July & Wednesday 9th July
2pm on Saturday 28th June, Saturday 5th July & Saturday 12th July
Twilight Performance: Wednesday 2nd July at 5.30pm
Audio described: Thursday 10th July
Captioned: Saturday 12th July (matinee)
Afterwords: Monday 30th June
Page to Stage: Thursday 3rd July
i wish i had been there…it sounds like something joyous and anarchic...the way the article is…Read more
Couldn't agree more. This is a super piece. Ken would be proud that not a penny of public money was…Read more
The review was indeed brilliant - congratulations Angie. The show must have been very special -…Read more
Thanks Angie for your brilliant piece, so glad you wrote it! Now i know what was going on! Being in…Read more