Dog In A Suitcase (And Other Love Songs)
Lyrich Hammersmith Theatre Spring 2019 and touring
Kneehigh Theatre's new show
(actually premiered elsewhere in 2015) may be enjoyed by younger audiences
and those for whom loud music, flashing lights, puppets and
familiar-sounding tunes are entertainment enough.
Those who know Kneehigh from
such previous productions as Tristan And Yseult, The Wild Bride and Brief
Encounter and love their unique ability to create engrossing narratives
and evocative stage imagery will be disappointed.
Rather than doing what they
can uniquely do better than anyone else, Kneehigh have chosen to do, not
especially brilliantly, what almost anyone else could do.
Dead Dog In A Suitcase is a
modern adaptation of John Gay's Beggars' Opera. (Yes, I know, Brecht and
Weill have already been there.)
The plot remains pretty much
the same. Dashing master criminal Macheath evades both crime boss Peachum
and police chief Lockit, but his simultaneous romances with Peachum's
daughter Polly and Lockit's daughter Lucy, along with his susceptibility
to the allure of other women, eventually bring him down.
Writer Carl Grose and
director Mike Shepherd modernise things, add a couple of new characters
and old jokes, and throw in some puppets. Composer Charles Hazlewood
writes new songs that generally parallel the originals, deliberately
magpie-ing his way through a range of styles from Gay's originals to rock,
punk, dubstep and ska.
Those more musically aware
than I will enjoy the surprise of each new style as it appears (Even I
spotted the Madness take-off), while also responding to generic tunes and
arrangements that sound almost familiar.
Dominic Marsh brings an
attractive macho swagger to Macheath. Angela Hardie as Polly draws the
most out of a couple of the better songs (with considerable help from the
volume-pumping sound engineer) and Georgia Frost is amusing as
accident-prone criminal gofer Filch.
In a new role as the avenging
widow of one of Macheath's victims, Kneehigh veteran Patrycja Kujawska is
a strong dramatic and musical presence, but no one else in the large cast
What is particularly
disappointing to Kneehigh fans is the blandness, lack of polish and
general uninventiveness of Mike Shepherd's staging.
Yes, puppets (including the
titular dog) pop up here and there, and characters may make their
entrances down a playground slide or fireman's pole. But once they're
there, they seem unsure where to stand and what to do.
For most of the group scenes
it almost seems like director Shepherd or choreographer Etta Murfitt just
told everyone to do what they wanted, rather than structuring a stage
A running gag has several
identical suitcases carrying, variously, someone's clothes, the newly
deceased canine and loads of money, being repeatedly accidentally switched
as characters pass or bump into each other.
Such classic farce moments
require precise timing and choreography, but are here so clumsily done
that you can't always even be sure the switch happened.
It is that kind of attention
to detail – and to investing such moments with heat-stopping beauty or
emotional symbolism – that has always been Kneehigh's glory
Without it, too much of Dead Dog In A Suitcase is the ordinary production of an ordinary play by a disappointingly ordinary company.
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Review - Dead Dog In A Suitcase - Lyric Hammersmith Theatre 2019