Friday, 10 October 2014

'Dead Dog in a Suitcase' at Bristol Old Vic

Photo credit - Steve Tanner

Guest review by Jacqui Furneaux 

It didn’t seem appropriate to applaud at the end of this Kneehigh Theatre production of Dead Dog In A Suitcase, at a time when the stage was full of the debris and destruction of a world we have created by accepting greed and corruption as the norm.

Like The Beggars’ Opera which inspired it, Dead Dog In A Suitcase is alerting us to our demise but the journey was light-hearted and very funny. Throughout, with the wonderful use of puppetry, brilliant songs and great lines, we hope the lovable villain Macheath (Dominic Marsh) will leave his bad-boy days behind and sail off into the sunset with good and wholesome Polly (Carly Bawden). But deprived of a happy ending, the audience has to accept that in this instance evil gets the better of good and even Polly succumbs to hatred and revenge. This flies in the face of tradition to give us a wake-up call.
Director Mike Shepherd uses Punch and Judy puppets as a continuous thread starting with Punch killing the Devil, which encourages the residents of a mythical but realistic coastal town to commit unspeakable acts without the fear of going to hell. After all, Punch has no scruples and neither do Macheath or the town’s greedy industrialists, the Peachums (Rina Fatania and Martin Hyder) who also crave political power.
Dead Dog In A Suitcase was a faultless theatrical delight with rich acting, script, props (including a progressively decomposing dead dog in a suitcase) and tremendous music. There were gender changes and role-swapping, with characters who had been playing respectable citizens suddenly appearing as the opposite sex in provocative clothing in a bawdy-house. The songs were amusing and poignant, varying greatly in style and during the interval several people were heard to ask if CDs were available. 

The set by Michael Vale was cleverly adaptable for each part of the play and was complete without much scene-changing. The clever lighting saw to that, highlighting various parts of the stage as required
At times the play was pure pantomime with the front rows being balloted with voting papers and the puppets encouraging occasional child-like delight mixed with unsettling sinister characters. At other times farce crept in with three identical suitcases being mixed up and picked up by the wrong owners. But unlike pantomime, Dead Dog In A Suitcase does not have the baddies punished and the goodies rewarded. It’s a grim reminder to mend our ways and it is to be hoped that Kneehigh’s declaration in the programme is correct:We believe that theatre has the power to transform...”.

Dead Dog In A Suitcase is performed at Bristol Old Vic until 25 October. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

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