As I sat down to watch Dead Dog, smoke and chatter drifted through the Northcott, and a theatres-worth of backs leant into the red velvet seats. Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other Love Songs) sounds more like an album than a musical play, and the show packed a festival of sound into two hours. It reminds me of Boomtown Fair: full of crazily shifting stage-parts, and eclectic songs from triphop to ska to soulful solos. Laughter, lies, corruption and confetti flourish, animated, across the many-levelled stage. Centre-stage, the show has a huge pendulous crane, which becomes a stripper-pole, an actor-bearing fishhook, and a gallows- Dead Dog takes gallows humour to new levels, with dead-man’s-twitches, gags and tricks. It also boasts a wandering Punch and Judy booth, which parodies the play’s action in real time, as Mr. Punch shouts and clouts at the cast. A slide ferries actors upstage and down, as they fire off guns and quips. Dead Dog supplements its human cast with a range of puppets, which flow with uncanny reality. In the hands of puppeteers Sarah Wright and Tim Dalling, a Chucky-esque chorus of babies, a pissing and bleeding dog, and a screeching monkey come to life.
Laughter, lies, corruption and confetti flourish, animated, across the many-levelled stage.
I struggle to describe the scope of this show in writing, and the stage seemed to struggle to contain the actors in their chases and capers. Lockit, the kilted policeman played by Giles King, searches the audience with torch-light and a megaphone. The front row become the voters for a dodgy election, flanked by bopping dancers with rubber gloves and feather dusters. Whilst whipping from theme to theme and mood to mood, the play offers the full musical spectrum. Between snappy funk riffs to infectious brass bangers, scenes break down into electronic dubstep wubs. Gruff characters belt out shockingly vulnerable solos, like the hilariously self-aware singing from Filch, played by Georgia Frost. A character like a scouse Artful Dodger, Filch brings laughs and gasps, swapping vibrato adlibs for howls of pain after a matrix-esque fight-cum-slapstick scene.
In a post-truth age, the play juggles half-truths, corruption and pollution
As a performance piece, it’s pretty meta. On the cue of key words and phrases, the cast freezes, chanting, with a flash of light and the whine of strings. Behind ongoing scenes, background vignettes play out in skits and tableaus. To represent criminal mugshots, actors pose between scaffolding. The show incorporates flashbacks, slick sleight of hand, audiotapes, ensemble dances routines and an uproariously chaotic denouement. Throughout, a cement mixer becomes a ballot box, which becomes a banana daquiri, and somehow the blend is perfect. In a post-truth age, the play juggles half-truths, corruption and pollution, navigating these muddy waters impeccably with a pirouetting moral compass. One voice of reason, the widow Goodman, played by multi-talented Exeter alumna Lucy Rivers, shines as a beacon of sense in an ever-shifting carnival. Meanwhile, the protagonist Macheath, played by Dominic Marsh, charms and tricks us all with a devilish grin. Spitting gritty lyrics like ‘it’s hard being the biggest shit in a world full of shits,’ Macheath may well have said ‘it’s hard being the highlight in a night of spotlit spectacles.’
Between somnolent yearning harmonies, obscenity, and articulate debauchery, it’s hard to find fault in Kneehigh’s Dead Dog. The show toured the world in the early 20teens, and now resuscitated, this zombie play is still a hit. This unruly phantom filled the evening, and disappeared into gold glitter, a swinging noose and a standing ovation.