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Dead Dog In A Suitcase (Kneehigh-Bristol Old Vic)

Dead Dog In A Suitcase is a rough, magical, playful, vicious, satirical and naughty burlesque and one of the productions of the year.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Dominic Marsh (Macheath) in Dead Dog In A Suitcase.
© Steve Tanner

What is the world coming to? The answer in Dead Dog In A Suticase, Kneehigh's customary thrilling retelling of John Gay's Beggars Opera is to hell in a hand basket. Carl Grose's book and Charles Hazleworth's rather extraordinary score bring Gay's morality tale kicking and screaming into the 21st century,

It's a world populated by assassins, gangsters and exotic dancers, where the innocent are destroyed and only the bad prosper. The show has the feel of political protest, its angry, anarchic and dazzlingly entertaining, like the best of Kneeigh its slightly rough and ready but also bursting at the seams with creativity, for every idea that doesn't work (and there are a few), there will be another along any moment that tickle the fancy .

It's a world that is in thrall to the culture of our times, there are hints and echoes and homage to film directors, Quentin Tarrantino, David Lynch and Peter Greenaway, a musical melange that straddles electro, disco, new wave, grime, punk, ska and the rest. It's a world away from the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim but is thoroughly refreshing for that. It feels like a musical for today, in all its messy contradictions.

Artistic director and Kneehigh founder Mike Shephard has also cast a brilliantly versatile and talented cast to portray his underworld characters. Dominic Marsh brings swagger and charm to the role of rogue assassin Macheath, there is something Peter Pan like in his boyish features that makes us root for him even when he is at his most misogynistic. Martin Hyder (who is having some year in picking terrific shows after his turn as father to the bride in Worst Wedding Ever at Salisbury) is suitably shady as Les Peachum who finds he has an unwelcome son in law and Rina Fatania gives the supporting performance of the year, grotesque, terrifying and hilarious in equal measures.

The casting stretches deep. Andrew Durand, imported from America seems to have found a spiritual home with Kneehigh and here makes an impression in a number of different roles. Carly Bawden sings sweet as a lark as Polly Peachum, the one innocent in this world who finds she may have to adapt to survive and Giles King is the corrupt police inspector who at one point finds himself warbling like Jack White in his Icky Thump days.

Dead Dog is one of my productions of the year; a rough, magical, overlong, frustrating, playful, vicious, satirical and naughty burlesque that also, as the apocalypse approaches, produces one of the most visceral finales you're likely to see. An absolute triumph.

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