The ramshackle anarchy of the old Everyman is the stuff of legend; with this latest production, the venue brings some of that old fighting spirit in a thoroughly modern, high tech way.
Dead Dog in a Suitcase is a co-production with celebrated theatre company Kneehigh, a re-telling of John Gay’s 1720 satire The Beggar’s Opera (which over 200 years later itself was reworked as Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera). Plus ca change, and all that – the play’s anti-capitalist message, written this time by Carl Grose, remains as fundamental today as it ever was.
It’s a vibrant, in-your-face roller coaster of a production that takes a little bit of everything to create a genuinely unique piece of theatre. At times, Dead Dog revels in the bawdiness of Chaucer; the grotesque of Hogarth; the social conscience and inequality of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists; the nihilistic sex and danger of punk. (And that’s just for starters.) The play is framed through the seemingly innocent device of a Punch and Judy show; there is puppets, live music from the actors, and an industrial playground of a set. The level of detail in every element is quite astounding.
“It’s ‘ard to be the biggest shit in a world full of shit,” muses our antihero Macheath (Dominic Marsh, pictured), a wide boy hitman who has no loyalty but to whoever is handing over the cash; a hardened murderer who still has the girls of the town all a-flutter. The play begins with his assassination of Mayor Goodman (and what becomes the titular dog), masterminded by local businessman Les Peachum (Martin Hyder) and his wife (a fantastically OTT Rina Fatania) who scheme to take his place.
The police investigation is at the mercy of instructions that come with the envelopes of cash provided to police chief Colin Lockit (Giles King). And when Mr and Mrs Peachum’s “blonde mop” of a daughter Polly (Carly Bawden) is swept off her feet and marries MacHeath in secret, with grieving Widow Goodman (Patrycja Kujawska) planning to expose what her husband knew, the stage is set for drama, comedy, the stuff of life and death and everything in between.
Mike Shepherd’s vivid direction doesn’t miss a beat as he uses everything at his disposal to tell the tale. The actors’ timing is crucial and almost exhausting just to watch, using every inch of the stage, lightning-fast flashbacks, live music, original song, aerial stunts, and puppetry – to describe the performers as multi-talented is a bit of an over-used cliche, but this cast works. Carly Bawden’s transformation from naive young thing to hardened survivor is one of the highlights, her love rival Audrey Brisson as Lucy Lockit is quite spellbinding, and Andrew Durrand as Filch (and others) is an understated yet extremely high quality support. As a play with songs, in style and form it was somewhat reminiscent of 2008’s Eric’s.
It all comes together for one of the most imaginative, chaotic, memorable and quite beautifully absurd final scenes this reviewer has ever seen in the theatre. Some 300 years later, Dead Dog shows an old tale can still have the power to shock, delight, and be told in a brand new way.
Dead Dog in a Suitcase and Other Love Songs is on at the Everyman until July 21.
Photo by Steve Tanner