The Beggar’s Opera at the Jack Studio Theatre
Reviving a work as popular as The Beggar’s Opera is both a safe bet and an enormous challenge, and this is easily discernible in the production by Lazarus, a theatre company that specialises in reimagining theatre classics for a contemporary audience. Artistic director Ricky Dukes and his cast have clearly enjoyed the process of transforming John Gay’s 1728 satire into a colourful modern musical, and their zeal is felt throughout.
Peachum is a leader in the criminal world with the power to assist or imprison lawbreakers as he pleases. When he finds that his daughter Polly has secretly married Macheath, a highway robber, he tries to manipulate the situation to his advantage by getting him arrested. It soon transpires that there are others interested in Macheath’s fate, including the jailer’s daughter Lucy, whom the much-admired robber had promised to marry.
Gay’s rich plot is compressed into one act, preserving all the main episodes. The score is updated to match the raunchier, playful mood and this results in a few amusing passages. A set of symbolic objects, such as a writing machine, a ladder, and a hat occupy the stage. There are also a number of orange props and items of clothing, establishing a visual pattern uniting the Peachum family.
While this is certainly a daring and imaginative adaptation, it is sometimes let down by its attachment to the text. The choreographies and songs embrace the spirit of the popular classic and many visual details are enticing. John Gay’s fierce characters, however, do not come alive, as the actors, although passionate, seem detached from the speeches they deliver.
It must be borne in mind, however, that the group rehearsed for a mere three weeks, which makes the end result an impressive feat. The play does have its moments of brilliance, but it perhaps lacks the emotional dimension that would give weight to the characters and lift them beyond the condition of caricaturised outlines.
All in all, this a bold step in the right direction, but the production is at the stage where the potential for excellence has not fully blossomed. Already a valuable piece in many ways, a more careful direction and a stronger focus on characterisation could make this play a truly wonderful addition to the many adaptations of The Beggar’s Opera.
Photo: Adam Trigg
The Beggar’s Opera is at the Jack Studio Theatre from 8th November until 3rd December 2016, for further information or to book visit here.