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Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and Other Love Songs) review at Home, Manchester – ‘fierce moral message’

Dominic Marsh as Macheath in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs). Photo: Steve Tanner Dominic Marsh as Macheath in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs). Photo: Steve Tanner
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The Kneehigh ensemble’s updated reworking of The Beggar’s Opera offers a merciless theatrical onslaught on the eternal theme of the human capacity for greed and corruption: John Gay meets Brecht-Weill, Ian Dury, disco and grime. That’s more or less the overall musical approach: to “plunder the sounds of now” as composer Charles Hazlewood puts it, albeit with the strains of Purcell and an old English country air thrown into the mix in a gritty stage world inhabited by a devil’s roll call of dodgy wheeler-dealers and sinister weirdos, including a pair of malevolent Punch and Judy puppets.

A roaring success at Liverpool Everyman where it premiered last summer, the show’s company of actor-musicians now kicks off on a new eight-date regional tour with a few cast changes but essentially the same fierce moral message coming through loud and clear.

It’s a pity, however, that the ingenious set – a clambering scaffold arrangement that was integral to the original production – looks rather messy on Home’s main stage as the action unfolds.

With a nod in the direction of gin-soaked Hogarthian grotesques, the cast strike the perfect balance between cartoon caricature and seriousness. Everyone gives Hazlewood’s live score a bruising vocal punch too, especially Rina Fatania and Martin Hyder’s low-class double act as the Peachums and Dominic Marsh’s gallows-cheating Macheath.

Even so, at this early stage in the tour there’s not nearly enough energy to drive the various plot strands along, especially during a slightly underwhelming second half when the doomsday finale needs a rev-up to reach full apocalyptic power.

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Kneehigh’s proven hit hasn’t quite lost its mojo on tour, but could certainly do with an energy boost