I loved the production company Kneehigh since my A Level drama teacher (shout out to you, Mr Geoghegan) introduced them to us in full force whilst they were performing Tristan and Yseult in Bristol. Since then I had kept an eye on what they had been up to, so when they landed in Cheltenham I had to go along to see what they had been up to.
Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) is a dark musical adaptation of A Beggar’s Opera. This is a ballad opera in three acts written in 1728 by John Gay and is the only satirical ballad opera to remain popular today.
Of course Kneehigh, along with Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse have put their own spin on things, and the result is a wonderfully witty, fresh feeling and engaging piece of drama.
The auditorium was packed on a Tuesday night and much to my delight a large majority were students and school children. “That was awesome!” shouted the kid behind me as the applause died down. Team that with a standing ovation and that is all the endorsement you need. Might as well stop writing now….
But I won’t. Kneehigh’s imaginative experimentation is too tempting not to talk about, especially for the theatre geek like me.
Their innovative ways are intriguing and exciting, from giving a Punch and Judy a dark twist to having a slide and fireman’s pole incorporated into the set. They seem to pull off a lot of things many companies couldn’t. I didn’t always get what they were trying to do and every now and again something didn’t quite click, but overall their inventiveness continues to impress and surprise over and over.
To me the story was one of manipulation, and even though the themes of money and politics were explicit throughout, there always seemed to be a darker side. I credit this darker side partly to the brilliant character of Macheath played by Dominic Marsh.
Along with parents and politicians who aren’t all what they seem and the innocent appearing Polly Peacham played by Angela Hardie make things beautifully sinister. Her solo after she is pulled from the water is particularly harrowing. It made even the noisiest of audience members fall silent.
Both Hardie and Marsh put on stand out performances, along with Georgina Frost as Filch who absolutely stole my heart and left it in pieces. All their voices were strong and carried the ensemble well.
This story arch is wonderful and with catchy songs, clever lyrics, amusing wit, lovable characters, elements of daft and heavy moments of darkness you’ve got a cracking good production.