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Dead Dog in a Suitcase (And Other Love Songs) review at Lyric Hammersmith – ‘crackles into life, then explodes into anarchy’

Dominic Marsh in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs). Photo: Steve Tanner Dominic Marsh in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs). Photo: Steve Tanner

Shows by Cornwall’s Kneehigh theatre company can be roughly divided into two categories. There’s the balladic, heartbreaking ones such as Tristan and Yseult or The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, and there’s the kinetic, anarchic, ‘let’s turn this theatre into one big party’, ones such as The Tin Drum.

Dead Dog in a Suitcase (And Other Love Songs) by Carl Grose, with music by Charles Hazlewood, falls squarely into the second group. Very loosely based on John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, Mike Shepherd’s 2014 production draws inspiration equally from the turbulent political times of the modern era.

On the eve of an election, Mayor Goodman and his lovable dog Toby are assassinated by Macheath (Dominic Marsh) under the orders of new mayoral candidate Les Peachum (Martin Hyder) and his wife, Mrs Peachum (Rina Fatania). Then, in typical Macheath style, he abandons his pregnant girlfriend and elopes with the Peachums’ daughter, Polly (Angela Hardie).

The cast has largely stayed the same since its first performances. Fatania in particular remains excellent as the fantastically cruel, daiquiri-swilling Mrs Peachum. Patrycja Kujawska is likewise great as the justice-seeking Widow Goodman, often acting as a symbol of morality in the background of the action.

Towards the beginning, it feels as though the energy is lacking slightly, perhaps the result of marginal mid-tour fatigue. The cleverness of Dead Dog, however, is how it captures Gay’s heightened Hogarthian vision of the world. A stinking, grime-covered world of corrupt politicians, oversexed and irresponsible men, and an inept criminal justice system: no wonder they’ve chosen to tour this show now.

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Kneehigh’s take on The Beggar’s Opera crackles into life, then explodes into anarchy