"The Way To Do It"
by Avril Silk for remotegoat on 19/06/19

I’ve been pondering the point of theatre reviews. Two main conclusions: a) to inform potential audiences and b) to give feedback to theatre companies (with, hopefully, some useful quotes for their publicity). So: a) Audiences! DO NOT MISS KNEEHIGH AT THE NORTHCOTT! b) Kneehigh! ABSO-BLOODY-LUTELY BRILLIANT!

I’m tempted to leave it at that, because of the near impossibility of name checking the participants – all of whom deserve their names in lights – and selecting stand-out moments when everything is a stand-out moment. Nevertheless, I have a generous word count, so be warned. What follows is an abundance of superlatives.

In collaboration with Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, writer Carl Grose screwed the living daylights out of John Gay’s 1728 ‘The Beggars’ Opera’ and Brecht’s 1928 ‘The Threepenny Opera’; composer Charles Hazlewood, in league with, if not the Devil, then a host of musicians from Henry VIII to Kate Tempest, turned up to the orgy, and then Kneehigh, the Midwives from Hell, directed by Mike Shepherd, delivered the amazing, screaming, wriggling bastard offspring that is ‘Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs)’.

Assassination; corruption, cruelty, vote-rigging, pollution, (and Officer Lockett’s frankly terrifying kilt) create a darkness, dominated by greed for money and power, that threatens to extinguish any faint glimmers of hope as the poor and wretched stumble through the cold and shadows. So – a story for today, worse luck for us.

The thing about Kneehigh is the cast act with intelligent, wholehearted commitment. If they are dealing with debauchery and dissolution, they don’t duck into something vanilla and vaguely decadent. They sing like angels and demons. Their musical expertise is outstanding. They dance like there’s no tomorrow and they might be right about that. They include puppetry of the highest standard. Acrobatics? Tick. A stunning set? Tick. Cracking costumes? Ditto. They could probably win ‘Bake-off’ and ‘Strictly’ without breaking a sweat. No weak links – just performers bursting with energy and talent. Tim Dalling. Rina Fatania. Georgia Frost. James Gow. Angela Hardie. Martin Hyder. Dave Johnzy. Giles King. Patrycja Kujawska. Alex Lupo. Dominic Marsh. Lucy Rivers. Beverly Rudd. Sarah Wright. Take a bow. And if the shades of Jenny Diver, Suky Tawdry and ol' Lucy Brown are lurking around, lusting after Macheath, the same goes for them and the enormous list of their creative accomplices.

The whole production fizzes and crackles with electric energy fuelled by rage at the world we are creating. Lone voices speak of goodness and choice; love raises its ever-hopeful head, trying to dodge the bullets; innocence buds briefly and beautifully but still the oppressors and haters march on relentlessly, herding us to the abyss, directing the trains to the camps. If we are all going to Hell in a handcart, let us at least sing, dance and fornicate.

I was shaken to my core by the visceral ending of this amazing production, which thoroughly deserved the standing ovation it received. My companion and I agree it’s among the best things we have ever seen in the theatre. We both plan to see it again, and I’m going to the website right now to see if there’s a recording. (There is.)

If you miss it in Exeter, catch it at the Bristol Old Vic in July. https://www.kneehigh.co.uk/about/ Despite the darkness, you will be exhilarated and inspired.

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