Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) review
The Cornish Kneehigh Theatre Company has pulled out all the stops in their latest, post industrial steam-punkesque production of Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs). Directed by company founder, Mike Sheppard, and with an original score by the BBC’s darling Charles Hazlewood, Dead Dog made a triumphant return to Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre with a reprise of last year’s show.
Writer Carl Grose gives a contemporary spin to John Gay’s 1728 The Beggar’s Opera while staying close to the satiric spirit of the original. The crowning achievement of the show, however, is the music. The plethora of musical accomplishments is overwhelming, jumping from soul ballads to electro solos, from crooning love melodies to raucous ska. There were solos from each primary actor, though credit must be given to the whole cast of musicians, who made every second of the performance a pleasure.
The extraordinary music does, however, steal away the focus of the drama on stage: I was left questioning the agency of the characters themselves, and just saw the story unfold, rather than get wrapped up in it.
The 2014 production of Dead Dog was noted for its dynamic scaffold-centric set, and the Everyman was kitted out with an enhanced set, divided into four main sections with three levels of performance space. A basement club with levels above connected by short ladders, a spiral staircase, a slide, plus a fireman’s pole, all packed tight together to lend a kind of urgency to the space. The enhanced design includes a movable section that detaches to create a hangman’s scaffold at the finale, making use of the Everyman’s unique protruding performance space.
The versatile lighting was employed tactically to highlight the different sections of the stage; a spotlight placed high up stage right would dart disorientingly between the players and the audience while clever tricks created new spaces. LED lights winked from backstage to suggest a canopy of stars, a neon sign descended to make a bar, and spots shone down to impersonate street lamps. For occasional effect, a strong strobe and brilliant warm filaments flared to impart a full-bodied impact on a particular crescendo. Red and green lights were thrown inwards from either side of the stage, creating a monstrous glow. This effect contrasted with murderous Macheath’s chalk white face, while blue lights created chilly flashback scenes.
Dead Dog was weighty in its translation and updating of theatrical convention, its awareness of cliché, and playfulness with archetypes. The comic disruptive ‘elders’ of Punch and Judy were masterful additions to a script of puppet-like characters, while visual metaphors scattered throughout reinforced the meta-theatrical basis of the performance. Stopping just short of preaching morality, Dead Dog does a marvellous job of reincarnating a classic.