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Theatre review: Dead Dog In A Suitcase (And Other Love Songs)

Butter wouldn't melt: Dominic Marsh as Macheath

REVIEW

Dead Dog In A Suitcase (And Other Love Songs)

Lyric Hammersmith, London, and on tour ★★★★✩

WATCH those suitcases. There are several identical ones doing the rounds in Kneehigh’s 2014 show, back for another tour, and one of them does happen to (apparently) contain a dead dog, shot at the same time as his master, Mayor Goodman, on the eve of an election by dapper killer-for-hire Macheath.

Yes, this boisterous update of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera is a Kneehigh show to its marrow, steeped in the more savage end of the company’s end-of-pier spirit and even giving Mr Punch a rare outing: he pops up as a sort of nihilistic mentor to Macheath, crooning diabolical songs into his ear.

Gay’s original was conceived as a populist indictment of political corruption, which makes it endlessly ripe for adaptation: Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s version, The Threepenny Opera, was a response to the rampant capitalism of the 1920s. Kneehigh reimagine it as a cartoon-style black farce with a hefty dash of noir thrown in, as Goodman’s widow seeks revenge on her husband’s killer and Macheath (a butter-wouldn’t-melt Dominic Marsh) tries to outrun the gallows. There are gruesome puppet babies, useless policemen, gangsters in macs and a standout performance from Rina Fatania, a vision in clashing leopard print as the sharp-as-a-tack wife of dozy business mogul Les Peachum.

Charles Hazlewood’s score meanwhile, played on stage by the cast, is an ersatz jukebox stomp that robs merrily from grime, ska, Purcell and English country ditties.

Mike Shepherd’s production is a little scrappy, and loses focus in the rush to crack another gag, but it does radiate brash moral ambivalence, which feels about right.

THREE TO CATCH ON TOUR

Riot Act

It’s 50 years since the Stonewall riots and this new play celebrates the progress made since then. Thu to Sat, The Old Stock Joint Theatre, Birmingham, oldjointstock.co.uk

Grease

It’s Grease but not as you know it. It’s the first new staging of the show in 25 years, but don’t worry, you’ll still be singing all the old classics. Jun 19 to Jul 20, The Grand Theatre, Leeds, leedsgrandtheatre.com

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare staged in London’s squares brings cheer in the open air. Next date: Jun 20, St James’s Gardens, London, shakespeareinthesquares.co.uk