Kneehigh’s wacky modern musical, Dead Dog In a Suitcase (And Other Love Songs) has returned to the Bristol Old Vic this year, and we’re delighted!
I went to watch it last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, so was more than happy to go see it again. It’s a story of immorality, violence, power and money; I suppose in that sense you could liken it to Macbeth. In fact, it’s a re-vamped version of The Beggar’s Opera, a satirical musical by John Gay.
And a satirical musical ‘Dead Dog’ also proves to be; the play questions the human need for power through corruption, it challenges our political system and urges us to change our ways while putting the audience in stitches the whole time.
How the hell do they manage all that?
With a cracking cast, of course! There was a slightly different cast this year, but some of our favourites remained. What never fails to amaze me about this production is the actors’ musical abilities; if they’re not singing, they’re playing instruments in the background or playing kick-ass violin solos (Lucy Rivers: Widow Goodman). Ultimately, they are an amazing ensemble of performers.
But I do have a fond favourite; with her big presence, comic timing and
hilarious one-liners, Mrs Peachum played by the wonderful Rina Fatania was back with a vengeance. Mrs Peachum is the Lady Macbeth we love to hate; she is the backbone to all the dodgy schemes as she plots to kill off Mayor Goodman so that her half-witted husband can take his place.
And of course we cannot forget the main compulsive villain and bad-boy, Macheath, played yet again by the talented Dominic Marsh. With his strong London accent, cockney swagger and charming demeanour, he exudes a Russell Brand appeal, which obviously impresses Polly, the Peachum’s innocent young daughter. Ah, the familiar bad-boy complex.
However, moving onto the new actors this year, the main newbie who stood out was most definitely Jack Shalloo who played Filch; his voice was to die for. In fact, I think they introduced a song especially for him this year, as I don’t recall Filch having a solo song before. Filch is a lovable character who provides the only source of hope in this otherwise bleak setting, and Shalloo does a great job in making him even more likeable with his beautiful, yet forlorn solo.
Thanks to the composer Charles Hazlewood, it’s certainly a quirky mix of trip-hop and folk with the occasional rocky riff. The songs are very catchy, which is ideally what you want from a musical. My favourites, aside from Filch’s solo which I’ve already mentioned are as follows:
- Take Me Somewhere Far Away: Macheath and Polly Peachum.I would associate this song as being the most ‘musical-like’ with a beautiful melody (which I’ve had in my head all week!) and cracking harmonies. Angela Hardie who plays Polly has a lovely, pure, Maria-from-West-Side-Story-esque voice which contrasts nicely with the low raspy quality of Macheath’s.
- Ninja Butterfly: Lucy Lockit.A nice jazzy number which is later juxtaposed with a rocky-style reprise. We see the soft, vulnerable side of the pick-pocketing Lucy Lockit, then her jealous rage only shortly after; it’s brilliant. Although I must add, the actress who played her, Beverley Rudd had a very strong Northern accent, so I didn’t realise she was singing the word ‘butterfly’ for ages- doh.
- Money: Whole Ensemble.
Trip-hoppy, catchy beat. Enough said really.
- Mrs Peachum’s Cautionary Tales: Mrs Peachum.Possibly one of the funniest songs in the whole show. Mrs Peachum tries to tell Polly some home-truths in her sassy, no-nonsense way.
The set has a play-ground appeal to it, which leans toward the idea that corruption is simply a game; a way to get to the top. It’s put to great use as the actors swing from bars and enter scenes down the slide. Yet, it was made out of jagged and distressed-looking dark wood and the lighting was generally dim throughout. Thus, we are constantly reminded of the
dark elements of murder and greed that run through the play.
Another interesting element was the Punch and Judy show; a running theme during the course of the production. Yet again, it harks back to the theme of playfulness, but is tainted with the abusive and violent aspects Punch and Judy are associated with.
If you like quirky, satirical musical theatre then I totally recommend that you go and see this. I feel that especially after recent events, the message of this play resonates. It questions the system that we are under now and implores us to wipe the slate clean and try again; undo all the wrongs that we have made.
Controversial- but that’s what theatre is all about.