Dead Dog In A Suitcase (and other love songs) is a riot of an evening, full of life, energy, wit, and verve. But how did Kneehigh come to adapt The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay, a piece nearly 200 years old, and make it relevant for today? Let director Mike Shepherd explain…
When it was first suggested that Kneehigh might be interested in The Beggar’s Opera, I wasn’t keen. The plot seemed thin; I didn’t really know who Macheath was or what he did, the women were either wives, daughters or prostitutes, and the men thieves and rogues and the ending felt lame.
I also read Brecht’s version The Threepenny Opera, and wrote one sentence from Brecht in my day-to-day notebook: “the world is poor and man’s a shit”. This resonated and prompted me to meet with long-time Kneehigh performer, writer and marvellous man, Carl Grose.
Together we interrogated John Gay’s original and Bertolt Brecht’s revision: we looked for ways to strengthen what we perceived as weaknesses, we ranted about the world and what makes us furious, and realised we were fired up to make a new Beggar’s Opera for our times.
When Carl announced the title was to be Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), there were raised eyebrows and pleas for us to change it to something more ‘accessible’, but we held out. It seemed an important statement of intent that he wasn’t simply adapting John Gay’s original, but radically re-writing it. Having been fired up we now wanted to leap far away from the comfort zone. As Carl wrote at the time:
“The story of a dead dog in a suitcase is a famous urban myth (Google it). It’s modern folklore and that feels like what our Beggar’s Opera is too. If John Gay’s was highwaymen, prostitutes and street thieves, then ours is about the mythic underbelly of NOW – corporate conspiracy, hit men, weirdo-warped Robin Hood types, the end of civilisation, dead dogs in suitcases… I mean what the HELL is the world coming to?”
In the time I’ve spent developing this show, I’ve been saddened and shaken by the horrors of Syria and Gaza, exasperated by bankers and bonuses, nonplussed by ‘austerity measures’, troubled by the increasing divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, inspired by the testimonies of Pussy Riot, dismayed by Cornwall’s support for UKIP, and filled with furious frustration by the endless corruption, injustices and short-term greed of the world.
I’ve watched the films of David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino, Roy Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor and You the Living, Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover, and work from the Marx Brothers and Jan Svankmajer. I stumbled across a Punch and Judy show and thought that Mr Punch (the Lord of Misrule and anarchy personified) was like Macheath.
I’ve listened to The Damned, Jimi Hendrix, Purcell, John Taverner, PJ Harvey, Portishead, Tom Jones, Monteverdi and Mozart. Oh… and Carl and I both watched all of Breaking Bad! All of this and much more has fuelled Carl’s brilliant script. Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) is a dark musical combined with high octane farce and a collection of songs culled from the edge of existence – some angry, some sweet. All combined to create a portrait of a world hanging by a thread.
As well as Carl, it’s been thrilling to work with Charles Hazlewood, whose score, great skill and spirit have taken us further than we dared, and I’m indebted to the brilliance of my creative team and the pioneering spirit of the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse for making this happen. Thank you!