Hey guys – I’m back! Another summer has been and gone, but far from feeling sad (or confused – that was summer? That rainstorm?) I’m super excited for the new theatre season ahead. Yes, I did enjoy cake and bookshop-hopping around Cumbria and the Isle of Wight, but the truth is I spent about 80% of my summer at work dealing with increasingly frazzled parents and their little darlings… Hardly ideal, whatever the weather. So the thought of thick jumpers, hot chocolate, crisp leaves and even crisper show tickets kept me going on those long afternoons – and now, autumn is finally here!
My first date in the 2015/16 year was at HOME – with gangsters, musicians, pole dancers, Punch and Judy and a dead dog in a suitcase. In this show, Kneehigh Theatre – who I first saw earlier this year at The Lowry – put their own spin on The Beggar’s Opera, with colourful, comic and disturbing results.
Dead Dog in a Suitcase is rife with memorable characters, in particular the villainous Mr and Mrs Peachum, whose scheming double act is reminiscent of Macbeth (albeit one set in 1980s London). Macheath, the elusive assassin responsible for the death of the titular dog (and his owner), leads a life of violence and deception, but his quick wit and charm make him oddly likeable. Polly Peachum, Macheath’s innocent young bride, initially lacks appeal against this shadowy, vice-ridden backdrop, but eventually sheds her victim status to become a dark and vengeful force.
Kneehigh squeeze every possible ounce of humour out of the show, not just from the larger-than-life characters but in all the little details: the ironic asides to the audience, the minor parts such as the apologetic prison warden, and the flies that buzz over the dead dog on wires when the suitcase is opened.
Like Kneehigh’s adaptation of Rebecca, Dead Dog takes place on an elaborate set constructed on several levels. The cast climb up the scaffold backdrop and slide down a giant ramp, demonstrating immense levels of energy and strength. At one point, Polly Peachum is lifted on a wire by her ankles. Puppetry is also an important element – the dog of the title is brought to life through clever manipulation, while the recurrent Punch and Judy show motif hammers home the idea that the characters are all controlled by exterior forces.
Music plays a vital role in creating atmosphere for all manner of settings, from a sleazy strip club to a quiet dockyard. For the most part it’s performed very well – Macheath and Polly’s love song, a beautifully harmonised version of ‘Over the hills and far away,’ is a particular highlight – but the sheer abundance of singing in the second half seems to slow down the action. And sadly, ‘Mack the Knife’ doesn’t put in an appearance.
Overall, this is a unique piece of theatre that I enjoyed far more than I was expecting to, and one that will stay in my memory for quite some time. I don’t feel like any review can do it justice – so get to HOME before Saturday 26th and see it for yourself!