Three words, everyone: Kneehigh. Are. Back. After entertaining and enthralling audiences the world over with their stellar range of shows, they’re back with a brand new modern fable for our times – Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), an adaptation of John Gay’s classic The Beggar’s Opera. In Kneehigh’s creative arsenal this time around, there’s a script by Carl Grose, music by Charles Hazlewood and Kneehigh veteran Mike Shepherd directing the madness.
Dead Dog brings us to a greedy, money-controlled world that’s rife with corruption in almost every nook and cranny. We meet contract killer Macheath (Dominic Marsh) who’s been working for various clients and popping the clogs off of various people the nation over. One day, however, he’s hired by Les Peachum (Martin Hyder) and his nutty wife (Rina Fatania) to assassinate Mayor Goodman (Ian Ross). Macheath does this deed, and slays the Mayor’s dog for good measure, too. However, it isn’t long before the tables turn and the mad world comes after Macheath, and it soon becomes clear that it’s time for this world to change. Cue mixed up suitcases, double marriages, a swarm of swearing babies and a spectacular finale that’s sure to leave you stunned as you leave the theatre.
There’s excellent characterisation throughout this entire production; each and every performer puts an incredible amount of energy into each of their roles, helping to keep the stage pulsing with life the whole time, which energises the space and keeps the audience engaged. Combine these crazy, fantastic characters with an excellent reworking of the play’s source material and you’re already onto a winner of a production. Kneehigh are known for their attention to detail in every aspect of their shows, and they’ve pulled out all of the stops here – especially with the storytelling, and they fully play with and manipulate the wondrous things you can do with theatre that you simply can’t do via any other medium. Live puppetry is a wonderful touch – Kneehigh twist it into something that’s simultaneously childish and dark, making everything that bit more funny, warm and playful despite the fact that they’re tackling with some pretty big issues here.
These characters contribute to the strong, well-considered scenography of the production, which is made up of a multitude of things. Firstly, there’s the lighting, which is so slick you’d mistake it for the greasy palms of the money-grabbing ruling elite that seem to get everything they could possibly want. Swift changes in colour and position help to fuel the audience’s imagination when it comes to conjuring up scene changes and locations, contributing to the atmosphere at the same time. This is created mainly, however, by Hazlewood’s stunning score. It combines a bit of everything from loads of musical genres, and it doesn’t sound like a cat being strangled; instead, it becomes haunting, melodic, aggressive and moving throughout, empowering the characters and fleshing out the narrative even more.
On top of this, you’ve got a delightful visual aesthetic, primarily comprised of quite an urban palette. Wood, metal and various accoutrements torn from a poverty-stricken cityscape come together to create a set that’s full of levels, character and a strong artistic vision that clearly demonstrates the talent that’s woven into this sunning production.
In my interview with Dominic Marsh I was told to urge readers to come and see this show. Now that I’ve been to see the show myself, I can one hundred percent agree with him on this. This show is one of the best I’ve seen this year –it’s playful, powerful, entertaining and joyously inquisitive, and very relevant to now.
Dead Dog in a Suitcase is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 7 November. For more information and tickets, see the West Yorkshire Playhouse website.