The Buskers Opera at Park Theatre
The Buskers Opera, a contemporary revitalisation of John Gay’s 1728 satirical classic The Beggars Opera, places the London 2012 Olympic Games under scrutiny while treating the age-old dilemma of an artist’s integrity in the face of recognition and growing influence.
Amidst the buzz of the Olympic Games, Macheath, indignant busker by day, smooth-singing philanderer by night, intends to take down the establishment, or at least bring the social injustices committed by the marriage of government and capitalism into public consciousness, with the aid of his rat pack, The 99 Percenters. However, the reigning media mogul, Peachum, and the farcical mayor, Lockitt, both have it in for Macheath – and for reasons beyond simply his political antagonism.
The Buskers Opera is an astoundingly well-written and well-composed satire of life in London by Dougal Irvine, who has managed fun, varied music of recognisable intertextuality and more than two hours of rhymed verse that add to the illusory effect without breaching tiresome territory. Yet the underlying theme does not offer anything especially revelatory (commercial exploitation of the Games is self-evident) and, despite its anti-establishment tone, the show feeds heavily into existing sexist discourse (two powerful men seeking revenge on the young man who played their daughters like guitars). Suffice to say that the production does nothing to stir the audience’s conscience or incite anyone to action, if that were ever the intended effect.
The cast is a solidly talented troop of newcomers flanked by Olivier award-winning George Maguire as Macheath and veteran David Burt as Peachum. Maguire offers exactly what is expected of his role, but Natasha Cottriall shines marvellously as Lucy Lockitt, the spoiled, shallow mayor’s daughter. Any scenes that involve her as this character are easily the best ones, providing the majority of the show’s laughs.
Marked by sometimes gratuitous choreography, the very literal physical rendering of lyrics is reminiscent of a children’s afterschool programme while the costumes, set and props seem lazy and put together last minute. All in all, however, this is certainly entertaining, and while it doesn’t instil any sort of socio-political fervour, The Buskers Opera features music and lyrics to usher in a new age of musical theatre.
The Buskers Opera is on at Theatre Royal Stratford East from 28th April until 4th June 2016. Buy your tickets here.
Watch rehearsal clips and an interview with lead actor George Maguire here: