Theatre Preview: Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs)

I’m watching a conversation between Carl Grose and the theatre company the Electric Sunshine Project. They’re getting to know the man responsible for their upcoming, absurdly titled production.

“Every theatre marketing department across the UK screamed in horror. Apparently you can’t have dead animals in titles. They don’t sell tickets,” chuckles Grose who fought tooth and claw for the name to stick.

Had marketing departments held as strong a presence in the 18th century as they do now, they would probably have said the same thing about the play from which Grose’s play draws inspiration. John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera satirises political corruption, social hierarchy, and the hypocrisy of the upper class and was hugely successful in spite of its naysayers. Since 2014 Dead Dog in a Suitcase has also proven immensely popular with audiences, dragging them down into a whirlpool tale of power, greed, and human capacity.

The play is set in an unnamed seaside town where corruption is rife. Here, few prosper whilst many scrape together what they can. Empty buildings, flickering neon signs, and shadowy alleyways provide a background for criminal activity to run rampant. Through the grime emerges protagonist Macheath, a contract killer and professional opportunist. Dead Dog’s central narrative revolves around his romantic entanglements with two women: Polly Peachum and Lucy Lockit. Macheath juggles his relationships, allowing the townsfolk to suffer the consequences along the way. Families feud, there are assassinations, oh, and if the situation wasn’t complex enough, the world is falling apart. Hadn’t you heard?

If you think this all sounds pretty bleak, you’d be wrong. Using a blend of dark comedy and high energy musical numbers the play tackles each terrible theme with sublime gusto. The original script contains some of the most hilarious stage directions you will ever come across, they often read like something that Noel Fielding would burp into existence. The Electric Sunshine Project has taken on a big challenge with this production but having been privileged enough to sit in on a few rehearsals I can say without a doubt say they have risen to the challenge.

Melanie Whitehead has led the company on this rollercoaster/acid trip/descent down a rabbit hole. A strange and usual place where live music will accompany giant fluorescing skeleton puppets. It’s been incredible to see the cast hold on to their hats for the ride and it’s resulted in hyper-dynamic performances so far. Quoting Spinal Tap, Carl Grose describes how he wanted the final scene of Dead Dog to go “up to 11”. By the time TESP brings the play to The Old Electric in June, I reckon they could bump up the volume to 12.

Dead Dog in a Suitcase is on 22-25 June at the Old Electric

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