Brighton Festival: Dead Dog in a Suitcase review

Dead Dog in a Suitcase. Photo by Xavier Clarke
Dead Dog in a Suitcase. Photo by Xavier Clarke

A riotious romp of vivid, contemporary musical theatre, Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and Other Love Songs) was an an early Brighton Festival 2019 highlight which teemed with wit and great tunes.

If there was any doubt in the minds of Brighton Festival theatre-goers that the show would be anything less than massive amounts of fun, it was dispelled within seconds of the play’s opening minutes, when a surprisingly cute dog puppet carried out an on-stage comedy pee.

Dead Dog in a Suitcase. Photo by Xavier Clarke

Dead Dog in a Suitcase. Photo by Xavier Clarke

The radical and rowdy reworking of The Beggars Opera by the Kneehigh theatre company, enjoyed a very successful run at Brighton’s Theatre Royal last week (May 8-11), and those who missed out should start wishing for a return visit after the festival.

There was so much to like about a production which was brimming with energy, ideas and excellent tunes.

Billed as modern-day morality tale, although there’s wasn’t an awful lot of morality to be seen, as murder, political corruption and general rottenness dominated proceedings.

But despite the downbeat themes the characters were huge and bursting with life.

Dead Dog in a Suitcase. Photo by Xavier Clarke

Dead Dog in a Suitcase. Photo by Xavier Clarke

Anti-hero Macheath was a Romeo love-rat, a rogueish, uncatchable gun-for-hire, played with considerable elan by Dominic Marsh, whose charismatic presence throughout was as towering as the scaffold-style stage set, from which the characters slide, jump and throw themselves from.

Giles King was also worth everyone’s attention as Lockit, a manic, cartwheeling, phantom treadmill-pounding, kilt-wearing, bent copper, whose nightly turns must have burnt more calories than your average Kenyan long-distance runner.

Toe-tapping throughout, one particular tune, which was an obvious and affectionate nod in the direction of Ian Dury, stayed with me for days.

Elsewhere there was a ska knees up – a banger of a song which wouldn’t have sounded out of place promoting the next James Bond movie – and some fairly juicy guitar licks and throbbing bass throughout.

Dead Dog in a Suitcase. Photo by Xavier Clarke

Dead Dog in a Suitcase. Photo by Xavier Clarke

You don’t have to look too far for a reason behind the quality of the music – British composer and BBC orchestras conductor Charles Hazlewood, a man who has immense classical music credentials but also knows his way around the environs of rock and pop. The songs were also aided by very strong classic female voices, notably Angela Hardie, Georgia Frost and Beverly Rudd, with the latter two occasionally putting aside their characters’ regional accents for some beautiful musical moments.

It’s not one for younger theatre fans. In addition to some bawdy behaviour and adult goings-on there was more than the odd swear word bellowed into the Brighton night.

Dead Dog was also never going to be a production which goes out with a whimper, and boasts a climax bathed in dry ice and noise, and an overall conclusion that the ‘new days’ aren’t much better than the ‘old days’.

A wild and unrestrained ride, but an accomplished, and surprisingly polished modern theatrical romp which sings, shouts, and dances its way into your good books.

Dead Dog in a Suitcase. Photo by Xavier Clarke SUS-191205-230003001

Dead Dog in a Suitcase. Photo by Xavier Clarke SUS-191205-230003001