West Yorkshire Playhouse 4/5
In the programme notes to Kneehigh’s latest show, director Mike Shepherd admits they came under pressure to change the title to something, well, a little more accessible. Dead dogs, some thought don’t put bums on seats.
However, the theatre company refused to ditch the dead dog, which to be fair plays a central – if inanimate role – in this update of The Beggar’s Opera. John Gay’s 1728 work satirised the politics, poverty and injustice of 18th century life and Kneehigh’s take on the original is sweary, dirty and ever so slightly surreal. It’s also very funny. The show opens with a murder. Goodman, a prospective politician about to lift the lid on tight web of corruption, and his dog are shot on the campaign trail and so begins a tale of corrupt policemen, bent businessmen and an underclass who will do anything to survive. Kneehigh productions are always inventive affairs and this is no different. A house band provides the music, which ranges from ska influenced numbers to 80s electro, as the cast sing their way through tales of sex, crime and blackmail. When The Beggar’s Opera opened it shocked audiences. We’re less easily shocked these days and if anything, Kneehigh could have turned up the volume on some of the key numbers. It’s a minor criticism of a show which is slick, stylish and just a little bit grubby.
• To November 7.