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Theatre Review: Dead Dog in a Suitcase

Peel back the skin of this totally bananas community production and you’ll find hard hitting truths that will leave you stunned, writes David Simper.

Without reservation Dead Dog in a Suitcase at The Old Electric is an incredible piece of theatre that has been put together with such love. I had had my doubts at the words ‘community production’, but these were assuaged and I didn’t stir in my seat until the house lights finally came back up. We are talking a remake of The Beggar’s Opera, delivered with originality and true gusto.

The service 3 bus got me to the Springfield Road venue nice and early and I sat in the vestibule while a healthy crowd gathered for opening night. As we entered the auditorium four cast members were already on stage, including a guitarist mysteriously dressed as a pirate, a punch and judy puppeteer, mr punch and the woman who transpired to be Polly Peachum (Lisa Reynolds O’Reilly). It all seemed a bit random, but the lights went down and the game was on. Fair warning, it is a bit sweary.

Plot spoiler – a ghastly act of political murder occurs, also resulting in the eponymous Dead Dog in a Suitcase. About the only truly nice character in the entire piece is lost in the first few scenes. With strong echoes of Lady Macbeth (in drag), Mrs Peachum (Mykey Young) foists her husband forward to take power. What did the mayor have over them?

After that the action is fairly relentless as a tale of greed, low politics, corruption, libidinousness and brutality. Oh, I forgot the implication of environmental pollution. The play is effective in examining the morality of a hired killer (Macheath, played by Elizabeth Wilkinson), an apparently evil man who nevertheless seems to have a good heart and is only evil to survive. This doesn’t quite excuse his clutch of grotesque puppet children and his bigamy. Lie piles on lie (he’ll be pime minister at this rate), but faced with the noose what would you do? Meanwhile, corruption compromises the police (represented by Ruth Collinge as Collin Locket) totally.

The action is fairly relentless as a tale of greed, low politics, corruption, libidinousness and brutality. Oh, I forgot the implication of environmental pollution.

Macheath becomes a central character, remaining strong to himself throughout, whereas the more privileged sink into a slough of amoral despond. Young women of varying degrees of worldliness are used, while thinking they’re getting ahead. One ends up as the head of a vicious crime gang. There are occasional and fairly incomprehensible outbursts from various punch and judy characters. Bananas – summing up the action of this play – figure highly, but gradually fade out of the plot.

Occasionally there will be a rather fine song and dance troupe routine, brilliantly choreographed by Hannah Dial (who also captivatingly plays one of those worldly women) as well as excellent music from the aforementioned guitarist (Lucy Ray).

The action quite often took place at breakneck speed and I suspect the cast was suddenly glad of all those grinding rehearsal hours to get this right. Suitcases containing money, running away clothes and, of course, a dead dog, were continuously muddled and swapped throughout the chaos. The Macbeth-like pressure continued to build on the dodgy characters, reducing at least one to a nervous wreck and the other to a gun-toting maniac.

Macheath is taken down by the showgirls who he has lusted over. How many killings, how many babies? He remains insouciant, sort of.

Congratulations on the puppets and to the puppeteer, Lindsay Mullholland, convincingly carrying off the dog, Terry the jailer and Joey the Monkey. One mystery was why there was no horrified audience gasp when the dog was offed (despite not being in the contract) – perhaps we are not such a nation of animal lovers. Now, if it had been a cat…!

The cast was convincing and mixing the genres worked well. Cast members played several roles – I always wonder how they do that. The plot built to a quite shocking climax as the true purpose of the plotting and corruption was revealed. You’d usually need to choose a Shakespeare play to get an ending like this one.

At the conclusion I did feel slightly stunned had to ask myself what I had just watched. Whatever, this was an incredible show and excellent value for its community budget – and just £7 a ticket. The rest of the full house audience was also transfixed. Well done to all – what’s to be done next? And you finished perfectly for me to get the service 3 home.

Dead Dog In A Suitcase is at the Old Electric until Sunday 25th June. Buy tickets here.

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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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