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The Theatreguide.London Review

Dead Dog In A Suitcase (And Other Love Songs)
Lyrich Hammersmith Theatre    Spring 2019 and touring

Kneehigh Theatre's new show (actually premiered elsewhere in 2015) may be enjoyed by younger audiences and those for whom loud music, flashing lights, puppets and familiar-sounding tunes are entertainment enough.

Those who know Kneehigh from such previous productions as Tristan And Yseult, The Wild Bride and Brief Encounter and love their unique ability to create engrossing narratives and evocative stage imagery will be disappointed.

Rather than doing what they can uniquely do better than anyone else, Kneehigh have chosen to do, not especially brilliantly, what almost anyone else could do.

Dead Dog In A Suitcase is a modern adaptation of John Gay's Beggars' Opera. (Yes, I know, Brecht and Weill have already been there.)

The plot remains pretty much the same. Dashing master criminal Macheath evades both crime boss Peachum and police chief Lockit, but his simultaneous romances with Peachum's daughter Polly and Lockit's daughter Lucy, along with his susceptibility to the allure of other women, eventually bring him down.

Writer Carl Grose and director Mike Shepherd modernise things, add a couple of new characters and old jokes, and throw in some puppets. Composer Charles Hazlewood writes new songs that generally parallel the originals, deliberately magpie-ing his way through a range of styles from Gay's originals to rock, punk, dubstep and ska.

Those more musically aware than I will enjoy the surprise of each new style as it appears (Even I spotted the Madness take-off), while also responding to generic tunes and arrangements that sound almost familiar.

Dominic Marsh brings an attractive macho swagger to Macheath. Angela Hardie as Polly draws the most out of a couple of the better songs (with considerable help from the volume-pumping sound engineer) and Georgia Frost is amusing as accident-prone criminal gofer Filch.

In a new role as the avenging widow of one of Macheath's victims, Kneehigh veteran Patrycja Kujawska is a strong dramatic and musical presence, but no one else in the large cast really registers.

What is particularly disappointing to Kneehigh fans is the blandness, lack of polish and general uninventiveness of Mike Shepherd's staging.

Yes, puppets (including the titular dog) pop up here and there, and characters may make their entrances down a playground slide or fireman's pole. But once they're there, they seem unsure where to stand and what to do.

For most of the group scenes it almost seems like director Shepherd or choreographer Etta Murfitt just told everyone to do what they wanted, rather than structuring a stage picture.

A running gag has several identical suitcases carrying, variously, someone's clothes, the newly deceased canine and loads of money, being repeatedly accidentally switched as characters pass or bump into each other.

Such classic farce moments require precise timing and choreography, but are here so clumsily done that you can't always even be sure the switch happened.

It is that kind of attention to detail – and to investing such moments with heat-stopping beauty or emotional symbolism – that has always been Kneehigh's glory

Without it, too much of Dead Dog In A Suitcase is the ordinary production of an ordinary play by a disappointingly ordinary company.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Dead Dog In A Suitcase - Lyric Hammersmith Theatre 2019