These lyrics from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd kept coming into my head as I watched Kneehigh’s shocking, stunning, exciting and often terrifying “Beggars’ Opera for our time,” Dead Dog in a Suitcase and Other Love Songs.
The show, written by Carl Grose after long discussions and research with director Mike Shepherd, takes the Cornish company right back to its subversive roots. With music composed and arranged by Charles Hazlewood and choreography by Etta Murfitt, it’s an extraordinary evening of murder, dark cabaret, burlesque, satire, passion and puppetry.
It opened earlier this year in the company’s Asylum portable theatre, set up in the Lost Gardens of Heligan, before a short UK tour that is at Bristol Old Vic until 25th October.
Taking John Gay’s masterpiece (and some of its music), Grose’s new play hurls its audience into the seedy depths of political and police corruption, sex and drugs and rock’n’roll.
On the now-standard Kneehigh scaffolding set the multi-talented cast climbs, falls, dances, slides, sings, screws and dies. Songs arrive from a wide variety of genres, actors play violins and puppeteers sing. The ensemble cast features the charismatic Dominic Marsh as Mackheath, Carley Baden as Polly, Audrey Brisson as Lucy, Rina Fatania as Mrs Peachum, Giles King as the kilted police chief, Martin Hyder as Peachum and Andrew Durand as Filch. The Punch and Judy puppets, ably operated and voiced by Sarah Wright, underline the action.
A morality play for an infinitely corrupt 21st century, it is so powerful that its message may distress. But if theatre should be about disturbing complacency, heed Macheath’s revelation that we’ve been given another chance at redemption and we’re throwing it away.
Sound too gloomy? Well it’s excellent entertainment, and brilliantly realised, so you might view it as escapism.
Whatever your view, please don’t miss Kneehigh back at its dazzling and devastating best.