Touring – reviewed at the Lyric Hammersmith
Kneehigh’s Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) was well received five years ago and so they’ve opted to revive it for a UK tour. Carl Grose’s reworking of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera has evergreen reference points with its corrupt political classes and mercenary business types and adorned with Charles Hazelwood’s songs, it makes for a striking experience on stage.
Macheath, the Peachums and the Lockits are all present and correct though in this more modern setting, Macheath is a contract killer who Mrs Peachum employs to bump off her husband’s political rival. He also kills his dog and that’s just in the opening scene. From there, there’s a raucous ride through a society turned entirely toxic by nastiness and greed and probably the puppets too.
Dramatically, it proves satisfying after the ferocious energy of its opening section, building to a properly arresting ending. But musically, it doesn’t quite tickle my fancy. The score borrows from an inordinately huge range of musical influences – hard rock to Madness to funk to straight-up MT, and so no sense of cohesive identity builds up to characterise the whole.
That that is not the intention should be noted, but the sense of sprawl just doesn’t work for me (compared to, say, the thematic integrity of the music of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Mike Shepherd’s production is full of strong performances though, notably Rina Fatania’s vibrantly vicious Mrs Peachum, Dominic Marsh’s lanky Macheath and Beverly Rudd’s spiky Lucy.