On Saturday 12th December, a group of Sixth Form drama students travelled to Shoreditch Town Hall to experience Kneehigh Theatre Company’s performance of Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), written by Carl Grose and directed by Mike Shepherd. Kneehigh is a theatre group originating in the heart of Cornwall. They are described as "innovative" and as "one of the brightest jewels in Cornwall’s crown” (Charles Causely, Cornish Poet). They take pride in their productions being fun, playful and, at times, quite risqué; this play definitely portrays all of those qualities. Dead Dog is also certainly not one for the faint-hearted, or children who have not yet reached their teenage years, as some scenes are quite shocking in more ways than one.
Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) tells of a greedy, money-controlled world that is rife with corruption in almost every crevice. We meet contract killer, Macheath (Dominic Marsh), who has been working for various clients and killing numerous people around the nation. One day, however, he is hired by Les Peachum (Martin Hyder) and his Bulgarian wife (Rina Fatania) to assassinate Mayor Goodman (Ian Ross). Macheath does this deed, and slays the Mayor’s dog for good measure. However, it is not long before the tables turn and the mad world comes after Macheath, and it soon becomes clear that it is time for this world to change. Add in some mixed-up suitcases, double marriages, a Victorian hanging, a swarm of swearing babies and a spectacular finale and everything is in place to ensure that you leave the theatre stunned!
Puppetry was a big part of this performance; from the show commencing and ending with a Punch and Judy skit, to the use of hand puppets for minor roles and, of course, the dog, Kneehigh really showed how they can bring realistic life to any inanimate object. The Kneehigh performers also showed their ability to step in and out of many different roles – an attribute that the company is well known for. A highlight of this for me was when Jack Shalloo, mainly playing the role of a rather weedy boy who does exactly what he is told, stepped into some knee-high PVC high-heeled boots and very tight short-shorts, transforming into a rather grotesque female stripper, which of course got a resounding laugh from the audience.
Shepherd's production is wild, anarchic and often very funny, with some striking moments and a big coup de théâtre finale, which left the audience shocked, excited, blown away and everything in between. However, there is a moral rage at the heart of the play, an appeal for people to take responsibility for their actions and their effect on others, but also to have moral courage, which is made very clear in lines like, "You can't blame the world. We made the world. We decide for ourselves." It felt like a huge production. The cast worked as a perfect ensemble as well as giving distinctive individual performances creating an entertaining piece, which resulted in a roaring standing applause before their final encore.
Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for others, we caught the final UK production of the show after 2 years on tour. Nevertheless, Kneehigh are touring their new show, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, from May to July this year in Bristol and Southampton, and are currently booking, so I would highly encourage snapping up tickets.
Original image by Zanna Spencer