Includes babies: Dead Dog in a Suitcase at the Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Steve Tanner
Includes babies: Dead Dog in a Suitcase at the Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Steve Tanner

Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love Songs). Bristol Old Vic Theatre, Main House

A creative, comical, kaleidoscopic, cacophonie of sound, smoke, music (and lots of shouty acting) Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love Songs) is entertaining from explosive start to destructive end.

The Bristol Old Vic was pretty well full with fans of Cornwall’s unofficial national theatre company. They mainly came in anticipation of a follow up production to the company’s outstanding Tristan and Yseult that incorporated the hallmarks of Kneehigh’s style: namely comedy, live music and song, modern and classical cultural references, dance and physical theatre; plus high production values of sound and lighting and even higher drama. Dead Dog comes close but didn’t quite match the creativity or the contemporary tone of the Celtic tragedy with its dramatic shifts in mood and spectacular dance and circus skills. Instead what it lacks in subtlety it makes up with its exuberant and frenetic pace.

Based on John Gay’s 1728 anti-opera musical satire The Beggar’s Opera, Carl Grose’s production takes the raw ingredients and recreates and resets them in a late 20th century world of ska music, disco, dubstep, travel cases, dark glasses and leopard print clothing. Despite the claims of the producer Paul Crewes that we “still observe a world where bankers destroy lives yet still collect bonuses, where power of wealth and celebrity is completely distorted, where the Law is often found to be corrupt…” there were few obvious identified targets for all this anger. We have a could-be-in-any-party politician shot for daring to expose a pilchard scam (true to the Cornish company’s roots but with no obvious political equivalent such as the scandal over weapons of mass destruction); a corrupt mayoral election (but with no indication that this was a dig at today’s elections where investigations into postal votes have caused concern); and despite director Mike Shepherd’s programme notes about his concerns over the rise of UKIP, the Syrian war and the increasing divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” it was hard to identify any specific contemporary targets in the play. Instead it had the feeling of a rant at the political state of the nation but without singling out anyone to lampoon. Farage, Cameron, Clegg, Assad, Netanyahu and Lord Stevenson to name but a few.

Instead the satirical drama was updated with music, high-octane energy and the fast paced story of the fall and fall of gangster hitman Macheath played with good-humoured charm by Dominic Marsh and his peerless love interest Polly Peachum (Carly Bawden). Rina Fatania as Mrs Peachum was enjoyably obnoxious while testy Lucy Lockit was given a punchy persona by Audrey Brisson. The ensemble cast were all box-office value giving excellent performances. Giles King as Colin Lockit the policeman, worked his kilt off, while brilliantly badly dressed Les Peachum (Martin Hyder) was a credit to the wardrobe department run by Jacquie Davis.

For pure entertainment the show was a hit with never a dull moment with its gyrating disco dancers, fabulous singing and complex chorography aided by a slide to shoot the cast onto stage and mobile platforms that were constantly moved to create anything from a scaffold to a sitting room. Apart from the songs and stunning final climax the puppetry threatened to steal the show. Sarah Wright’s Punch and Judy, the eponymous dog (and flies) and in particular her babies (memorable in an absent father come Child Support Agency scene) blended the puppets perfectly with the action.

Four Stars

Harry Mottram

The show continues until Saturday, 25 October 2014 at the Bristol Old Vic. Details at and also at

Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), A New Beggar’s Opera was written by Carl Grose, with music by Charles Hazlewood and was directed by Mike Shepherd – and it was a Kneehigh with Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse production.