Review: Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), Lyric Hammersmith

The inimitable Kneehigh retool The Beggar’s Opera in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), now playing at the Lyric Hammersmith

“What is the world coming to?”

Kneehigh’s Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) was well received 5 years ago and so they’ve opted to revive it for a UK tour. Carl Grose’s reworking of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera has evergreen reference points with its corrupt political classes and mercenary business types and adorned with Charles Hazelwood’s songs, it makes for a striking experience on stage.

Macheath, the Peachums and the Lockits are all present and correct though in this more modern setting, Macheath is a contract killer who Mrs Peachum employs to bump off her husband’s political rival. He also kills his dog and that’s just in the opening scene. From there, there’s a raucous ride through a society turned entirely toxic by nastiness and greed and probably the puppets too. Continue reading “Review: Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic

“In you, I found all the pleasure and pain I could ever hope to feel”

All the best birthday celebrations go on for a while and Bristol Old Vic’s 250th Anniversary programme has been no exception, featuring productions from each of the four centuries of the theatre’s life. I took in the Lesley Manville opus Long Day’s Journey Into Night earlier in the year and returned to the South West with great anticipation for the 21st century strand of work, which is the macabre, and excellent, new musical The Grinning Man

Based on the Victor Hugo novel L’Homme Qui Rit (The Man Who Laughs), the show tells the dark tale of Grinpayne, a young man mutilated as a child who scrapes a living as part of a carnival troupe with his adopted family. Grinpayne keeps the lower part of his face covered but the highlight of the fair comes when he reveals his scarred ‘smile’, a sight that moves people in unpredictable ways, not least the royal family in whose intrigues Grinpayne finds himself increasingly embroiled. Continue reading “Review: The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic”

Review: The Wild Bride, Lyric Hammersmith

“There’s precious little else to do, the Devil supposed, but to sell your soul at the crossroads”

I have to admit to not being entirely won over by Kneehigh. They spoken of with such reverence but the handful of shows of theirs that I have seen haven’t really won me over to their style. I found the archness of The Red Shoes lacking in emotion, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg tried too hard to force too much quirkiness, A Matter of Life and Death just left me baffled! But Emma Rice’s retelling of a Hungarian fairytale, The Handless Maiden, retitled here as The Wild Bride feels like something closer to Kneehigh’s raison d’être, combining light with the dark, humour with the tragedy, and consequently I found it highly enjoyable.

When a miller accidentally sells his only daughter to the Devil and has to chop her hands off as it turns out she is too pure to be taken, the girl ends up in the harsh world of the forest where hardship is endured, opportunity presents itself but the Devil is always keeping a watchful eye. The company of six – actors, musicians, performers, dancers, artists – tell the story in typical Kneehigh style, embracing a world of influences the most significant of which are the enchanted dark forests of the Brothers Grimm with their mysterious feel and the American South of the Great Depression, with the twang of blues guitar never far away. The end result is something close to magic. Continue reading “Review: The Wild Bride, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: The Red Shoes, Battersea Arts Centre

“Have you seen her shoes?!”

The Red Shoes, one of Kneehigh’s most famous shows, has returned to Battersea Arts Centre where it started 10 years ago for a final run in the UK as part of the 30th birthday celebrations of this venue. It retells a version of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale of a young girl who longs for a pair of gorgeous red shoes yet when her desire is fulfilled, their addictiveness drives her beyond all reason and beyond the help of society as she cannot stop dancing until they, and her feet, are removed. It does this through a music hall frame though, so the performers arrive in ghostly make-up and men’s underwear and vie to be picked for roles in the storytelling by narrator and MC Lady Lydia, a Noel Fielding-like character who also provides. There’s also interludes with magic tricks which play up the cabaret feel, although I was not a fan of them to be honest.

There’s a real inventiveness and playfulness to proceedings as the physically dextrous performers rush around transforming themselves into any number of characters which are beautifully defined, providing musical and dance support at the drop of a hat, and allowing Patrycja Kujawska as the girl with the shoes to sustain the mood of wonder transmuted into horror as the consequences of untrammelled desire are revealed. Her wide-eyed openness was a pleasure to watch but I also enjoyed Rόbert Lučkay and Dave Mynne in the ensemble and Giles King’s charismatic turn as the MC conducting from his perch above the stage. There’s a soundtrack of darkly rhythmic classical music initially highly atmospheric though becoming a little relentless towards the end, which is supported by 2 musicians at either side of the stage with a range of instruments, including trombones. Continue reading “Review: The Red Shoes, Battersea Arts Centre”