DEAD DOG IN A SUITCASE (and other love songs) A New Beggar's Opera

Opera House, Wellington

26/02/2016 - 02/03/2016

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2016

Production Details

“Fiendishly clever … a constant barrage of visual, theatrical and musical surprises” – The Stage

Busting with wit, wonder and weirdness, Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) was one of The Guardian’s Top 10 theatre shows of 2014.  

The ever-inventive, multi-talented performers of Tony Award-nominated Kneehigh are renowned as creators of wildly energetic and hugely popular shows.

Following Tristan & Yseult (2006) and The Wild Bride (2012), they return to the Festival with a reworking of John Gay’s bawdy 18th-century musical satire The Beggar’s Opera, updated with a new score that mixes Renaissance polyphony, folk, heavy metal, ska, grime and dubstep.

Who wouldn’t want to hear how that works? 

Opera House Wellington
Friday 26 Feb – Wednesday 02 Mar
The performance on Monday 29 February will be Audio Described 
2hrs 25mins (inc 15min interval)
This show contains strobe lighting
Recommended for ages 14+
Buy tickets

Theatre , Musical ,

2 hrs 15 mins (incl interval)

One 'out of the box'

Review by Ewen Coleman 14th Mar 2016

Written in the middle of the 18th century, John’s Gay’s opera about the underbelly of Society The Beggar’s Opera gained prominence in the 1920’s when Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill adapted it as The Threepenny Opera, a satirical commentary on capitalism.

Now Kneehigh Theatre from the UK have adapted it even further into their unique style of production and while maintaining the essential story of Macheath and the Peachum’s showing how far corruption, injustices and greed can go, they have embellished it quite considerably from the original. [More


Make a comment

Potent Festival fare with flair

Review by John Smythe 27th Feb 2016

The skeletal steel structure that looms in the half-light of the Opera House stage evokes both urban destruction and construction or maybe both: renovation? There is a chute of the kind used by demolition workers and a concrete mixer – which, being golden, also suggests a lottery draw. Anachronistically juxtaposed – and brilliantly used to reflect and comment on the more contemporary action – is a Punch & Judy puppet show.

Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) renovates John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera nearly 300 years after it shocked London opera-buffs by eschewing tales of the aristocracy and mythical deities for “low-born, mucky people doing low-born mucky things to each other” amid a “festering muck-heap of scabrous ditties” (as Charles Hazlewood, this work’s composer and musical director, puts it).

While Hazlewood happily echoes John Gay by appropriating tunes by Purcell and, powerfully, the old English folk tune ‘Greensleeves’ (purportedly composed by Henry VIII), his “mongrel score” also “straddles electro, disco, new wave, grime, noir, trip hop, punk, ska, as well as 18th century counterpoint” by way of remaking it “for our times”.

If you are wondering about the title, director Mike Shepherd enjoins us to google the urban myth of the dead dog in the suitcase – but it’s not nearly as good as the multiple suitcase intrigue created by writer Carl Grose to bring the strands of storyline together.

Those unfamiliar with The Beggars Opera may recognise key characters from the Berthold Brecht /Kurt Weill remake, The Threepenny Opera, which premiered in 1928 (exactly 200 years after Gay’s original). But it’s Gay’s work the Kneehigh* team build on in their inimitable, visceral way.

Mr Peachum (a ‘fence’ for stolen goods in the original), is now Les Peachum (Martin Hynder) of Peachum’s Pilchards and other business enterprises that exploit workers and the environment. The ruthless power behind his dodgy throne is Mrs Peachum (Rina Fatina), forever correcting her husband’s attempts to big-note himself with fancy words and getting them wrong. She wants him to run for mayor but they have to get the appropriately-named Mayor Goodman (Ian Ross) out of the way, and contract the almost mythical master-criminal Macheath (Ed Hughes) to do the deed. That Goodman would be walking his dog at the time was not factored into the plan.

The dead dog stashed in a suitcase – not to be confused with the one containing reward money or Widow Goodman’s clothes – becomes the story’s equivalent of ‘the elephant in the room’: the greed and corruption that permeates every level of a society where only those at the bottom get dealt to by the law. Meanwhile trying to track that suitcase, as it gets inadvertently swapped with the others, is part of the fun as the increasingly potent plot plays out.

The Peachum’s daughter Polly (Angela Hardie), clad in pure white, is nevertheless attracted to Macheath while the Peachums’ ever-obliging gofer Filch (Jack Shaloo) is hopelessly in love with her. But while Macheath seems genuine in requiting Polly’s love, even to the point of marrying her, he also happens to have got Lucy Lockit (Beverly Rudd) pregnant. Indeed the dockside Slammerkin Inn seems to have a whole nursery to accommodate his illegitimate offspring to various cabaret dancers and strippers. And Polly is the daughter of Macheath’s nemesis, the police officer Colin Lockit (Giles King), who is in the pocket of the wealthy Peacham. 

Deeply rooted in highly recognisable human foibles, which generates heart-felt comedy, and resonant with all the ills of today’s increasing divisive world – “What the HELL is the world coming to?” is the recurring cry – strong social commentary is always to the fore as the twists and turns of plot captivate us.

And is justice done, and seen to be done, in the end? Eschewing the rules of British law, the lore of misrule prevails in the Punch & Judy tradition. We are left with the ambivalent feelings a well-wrought classic invariable generates: in essence nothing has changed over the centuries yet here we all are recognising what’s wrong and wanting to set the world to rights.  

Not only does every actor – including Punch & Judy puppeteer Lowri James – own their primary role with flair, in the vaudeville acting style the show requires, but they also sing superbly, solo and as an ensemble, and join musicians James Gow and Justin Radford to make up the formidably skilful band. And everyone pitches in to play Mac’s gang (dressed more like spoof spies, in trench coats, dark glasses and trilby hats, than street crims), the inhabitants of the inn and whatever else is needed.  

Dead Dog in a Suitcase thrills as potent Festival fare with flair because it uses multiple live theatre skills to engage our hearts and minds by reflecting and confronting the real world.   
 – – – – – – – – – – –
*In past Festivals, Kneehigh – “renowned for exhilarating and surprising retellings of classic stories” – brought us Tristan & Yseult (2006) and The Wild Bride (2012). 


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council