By Nigel Smith
ENJOYING a welcome return this week, Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) was one of the major successes of the opening season for the reborn Everyman Theatre when it first burst into life in the summer of 2014, as the first co-production with another company on the new stage.
Cornish theatre company Kneehigh immediately proved a perfect choice as production partner for the Everyman, as they share the same ethos of producing engagingly challenging theatre that’s full of anarchic humour and energy. Dead Dog played to ecstatic audiences in Liverpool for a month before transferring to Kneehigh’s home in Cornwall and then onward.
Inspired by John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, a rich source of inspiration to writers, composers and performers since 1728, Carl Grose’s text retains the key characters while weaving a tale that obliquely lampoons today’s establishment just as Gay aimed to do. Charles Hazlewood’s musical settings are similarly ebullient and tongue in cheek, mixing an eclectic variety of styles, techniques and pastiche.
Macheath is introduced here as a dashing lothario and contract killer in teddy-boy suit and double-soled brothel-creepers. Hired by the underhand Peachum to kill Mayor Goodman, he gets embroiled in a sequence of events that lead him inexorably toward the gallows that hang over the set from the beginning. But it is the self-seeking ends of others that eventually bring the piece to its overwhelming, explosive conclusion.
There is raucous and irreverent humour from the outset and the no holds barred text, while frequently close to the bone, never goes to excesses that aren’t justified by the storytelling. There is a point about a third of the way into the first act, when the Widow Goodman embarks on her song “The World is On Fire”, where there’s a palpable gear-shift in the story’s atmosphere. From the pulse of it we feel the dramatic world getting darker and, here onward, the comedy and the characterisations become increasingly grotesque.
Many of the original cast are still here but without the slightest visible trace of fatigue, their performances as fresh and committed as ever under Mike Shepherd’s unfailing direction. Dominic Marsh’s Macheath is every bit as dashing and Giles King’s Colin Lockit, the Police Chief sent to ensnare him, just as manic. Rina Fatania and Martin Hyder continue to delight with their show stopping Mr and Mrs Peachum, while puppeteer Sarah Wright still animates so many of the, shall we say, “smaller” parts with great attention to detail.
Four notable new cast members fit neatly into the piece while making the parts their own. Beverly Rudd’s Lucy Lockit has added her own brand of dark humour, Angela Hardie’s Polly Peachum makes the transition from frailty to defiance perfectly and Lucy Rivers plays Widow Goodman’s quest for justice with a great sense of authority. Perhaps one of the hardest acts to follow was Andrew Durand’s Filch/Terry, but Jack Shalloo has managed to fill both parts with style, adding a few neat touches of his own.
There is quite simply nothing not to admire in this production, which is still deservedly bringing audiences leaping to their feet.
Since its opening run in Liverpool Dead Dog in a Suitcase, now nearing the end of a nine-venue tour, has returned to packed houses at its spiritual home in the Everyman for just five days till Saturday 14th November. It then continues to Bristol and Shoreditch until 12th December, and the company are also planning a major international tour.