Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Urban myth makes for a dark, raucous and anarchic evening

Urban myth makes for a dark, raucous and anarchic evening

THERE’S a programme note about the title, Dead Dog in a Suitcase, now running at the Oxford Playhouse.

Writer Carl Grose explains that the “dog in a suitcase” is an urban myth — Google it — which emerged in an early workshop for the show.

A clue to the myth is provided by the fact that there are several shiny wheelie bags deployed on stage.

One contains the remains of the dog, who is incidentally one of the most sympathetic characters in the play, when alive. Another contains wads of banknotes. A mix-up is inevitable.

The money is payment to a hit-man called Macheath. His job is to murder the last good man in a seaside town. The dog is collateral damage when he shoots Mayor Goodman.

The integrity of Mayor Goodman — geddit? — stands in the way of the notorious Peacham family, whose businesses include pilchard-packing and cement manufacture.

Things get more complicated when the daughter of the family, Polly Peacham, falls for Macheath.

If the names sound a bit familiar then that’s because they are.

Macheath and Polly and others appear in the 18th century The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay. This was radically updated by Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill as The Threepenny Opera in the Twenties.

Now Carl Grose and composer Charles Hazelwood have brought the story into the 21st century in this production presented by the Kneehigh company and the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse.

Gay’s original play wasn’t an opera. It used ballads and popular songs. In the same way, Hazelwood draws on a tremendous variety of music from heavy metal to ska, from country and western to power ballads, as well as traditional material like Greensleeves. The result is an energetic, constantly surprising hodge-podge.

The targets are the same as Gay’s and Brecht’s, though. Corruption, hypocrisy, injustice.

The message is bleak, and political developments since the first staging of Dead Dog in a Suitcase in 2014 may make it seem bleaker still, as director Mike Shepherd notes.

But there can be pleasure in bad news, in saying ‘What is the world coming to?’ For one thing, there’s great energy on stage.

Dominic Marsh makes for a charismatic and ruthless Macheath, with Angela Hardie as a touching Polly and Beverly Rudd as no-nonsense Lucy Lockit, another of Macheath’s many “conquests”. Mr and Mrs Peacham (Martin Hyder and Rina Fatania) enjoy playing the villains.

The stage has room for a slide, a nightclub and a mobile Punch and Judy show, used to comment on the action.

Oh, and there’s also the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Exactly why this appears in the finale of Dead Dog in a Suitcase you’ll have to go to the Oxford Playhouse to find out.

Altogether this is a dark, raucous and anarchic evening.

Until Saturday.

Philip Gooden

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