Fascinating and frantic - and a tad barking mad

Reporter: Paul Genty
Date published: 16 September 2015

Dead Dog in a Suitcase, HOME, Manchester, to September 26

ONE thing you can be sure of: having chosen a show worthy of its highly physical, in-your-face style, Cornish company Kneehigh’s collaboration with the Liverpool Playhouse is a fast, frantic experience rehearsed to within an inch of its life, detailed and precise.

What it isn’t — like John Gay’s satire “The Beggar’s Opera”, on which it is based — is particularly engaging or delightful, an artistic experience to match the logistical feat of moving several actors round the stage, up the massive scaffold-like backdrop and across large platforms (and past the huge noose) on the stage floor.

But the show is, in compensation, sporadically spectacularly inventive, in Kneehigh’s usual manner.

There’s a puppeteer who manipulates a puppet dog and a full Punch and Judy set at various times.

The company later goes one better with a gaggle of pink babies singing rude things about their father, Macheath (the latter upgraded to the status of present-day contract killer, but charming with it).

Then there’s — among many other things — the silly business with the identical black suitcases.

One has clothes, one a lot of cash, the third a dead dog, and we never quite know who has picked up which. The dog gets into the case courtesy of the first scene, in which Macheath (Dominic Marsh) offs the local mayor (Ian Ross) so businessman and corrupter Peachum (Martin Hyder) can be elected in his place. Since the mayor is walking his dog at the time of his death, Macheath does two, grudgingly, for the price of one.

Strong performances abound, from Hyder and Marshto more minor characters such as the raucous police chief’s daughter Lucy (Beverly Rudd) and the chief himself (Giles King), or dogsbody Filch (Jack Shalloo), not forgeting the horrendous Mrs Peachum (Rina Fatania).

But it is hard to separate leading and supporting players — or for that matter actors from the healthily-sized band, which adds atmosphere throughout. This is a genuinely powerful ensemble performance and it ends — or rather doesn’t — with a loud rock finale and the amazing visual of a smoky vortex of fog and rubbish and, er, a dinosaur skeleton.

The show then ruins the subsequent fade to black by following it with a weakly moralising song, as seen in all the best 18th century operas.

It’s an evening that is continually fascinating, but at the end you won’t much care about anything you have seen.