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Review of The Beggar’s Opera at the Jack Studio Theatre

Lazarus The Beggar's OperaIs it appropriate to retain the title The Beggar’s Opera if it is no longer an opera? The programme tells the audience this particular adaptation is a ‘musical play’, itself causing slight derision amongst patrons: is it a musical or is it a play? Without a single musical instrument to be seen, and without a list of musical numbers, I shall plump for the latter. Except there are musical numbers, and even one with harmonising parts where different characters are singing different narratives over one another (think ‘One Day More’ in Les Miserables, but on a significantly smaller scale), and the lyrics are, by and large, reasonably witty. They are also, I am sorry to report, unmemorable.

There was at least one reference to a character called Trump. Nothing wrong with a show being topical – indeed, if it isn’t, one may wonder why it is being produced at this time in the first place – but I really have no idea what on earth the business tycoon cum president-elect (at the time of writing) has to do with Macheath (Sherwood Alexander) and his wayward ways.

There might have been an exploration of how people do not always mean what they say, or say what they mean, but here, the reference seemed to be wedged in without much of an attempt to critically relate current affairs with the play’s events. Anyway, the show does make good use of the available performance space, justifying the in-the- round seating arrangements.

Michaela Bennison shines as Polly Peachum, Macheath’s wife (or is she?), particularly in the musical numbers. Overall, however, the play is slightly chaotic, and so fast-paced that in order to keep up with it, I found myself time and again relying on knowledge of The Beggar’s Opera from previous versions, most notably the 2011 Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production. This is all very well for someone who has seen a version of this (admittedly oft-performed) show, but what of those who haven’t?

There’s some decent choreography, which comes into its own in a modern dance sequence, complete with a sort of techno beat, eliciting quite a positive response from the audience at the performance I attended: one or two other sections of the play were less focused, and it’s in the veering from perfect execution (pardon the pun for those familiar with the narrative) to inept delivery that is most jarring.

That said, it’s clear the actors are working hard, even if an unnecessarily copious amount of self-adhesive tape of various colours being used on stage had almost inevitable consequences. Perhaps there is something to be said for conducting risk assessments after all.

It is certainly an alternative take on The Beggar’s Opera, though a sweeping epilogue, while positive, deprives the show of its usual celebratory feel at the end. Instead, it’s very much a case of ‘Would the last person to leave please turn off the light?’ And overall, the relatively limited script development and consequent rehearsal periods are occasionally all too evident. This production is a good effort, albeit with mixed results.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Bawdy, Bonkers and Bizarre…
Polly Peachum longs for her newly-married husband, the roguish highwayman, Macheath. Their whirlwind romance is derailed by her parents, his lover, the law and the noose.

John Gay’s 1728 musical comedy is set deep within London’s underworld, a frantic, dangerous and lascivious world of highwaymen, hangmen and harlots. This uncompromising exposure of moral and financial corruption comes to the stage with an original score and contemporary staging.

The Beggar’s Opera is suitable for audience members of the age of 12 and upwards, contains strong language and scenes of very naughty behaviour.” Lazarus is an award-winning Theatre Company, re-imagining and revitalising classic text for a contemporary audience.

Polly Peachum – Michaela Bennison
Lucy Lockit – Elizabeth Hollingshead
Mr. Peachum – David Jay Douglas
Mrs Peachum – Natalie Barker
Lockit – Josie Mills
Macheath – Sherwood Alexander
Filch – Louis Rayneau
Matt of the Mint – Alasdair Melrose
Jenny – Rachel Kelly
Mrs Trapes – Shalana Serafina

Written by John Gay
Adapted and Directed by Ricky Dukes
Designed by Sorcha Corcoran
Lighting Design by Stuart Glover
New Lyrics and Music by Bobby Locke
New Music and Sound Design by Chris Drohan
Musical Direction by Sarah Morrison
Production Graphic Designer – Will Beeston

Dates 8th November – 3rd December 2016, Tuesday – Saturday at 7.45pm
The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
Twitter @LazarusTheatre Facebook /LazarusTheatre


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