Britten The Beggar’s Opera, Royal Opera/ Linbury Studio
Wednesday 21 January 2009
You could experience a momentary double-take walking into the Royal Opera’s Linbury Studio Theatre and thinking you’ve taken a wrong turn into the main house.
A cross-section of the ornate balconies and familiar red curtains of the latter confronts you as you enter, but the crest at the base of the curtains is of Charles III not Elizabeth II – a timely reminder that, in its original incarnation, John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera was so successful that it literally laid the foundations for the theatre on Bow Street that is now The Royal Opera House.
So, a neat spin on history and a cunning one because Justin Way’s new staging of Benjamin Britten’s brilliant and creative re-pointing of Gay’s “ballad opera” is dropped firmly and decisively into our own times where the sale of alcohol and women are roughly commensurate. And because throughout the performance Way’s “beggars” sit alongside the stuffed shirts in the makeshift auditorium (well, actually the stuffed shirts are dummies providing further social comment) we, the audience, need to decide where we stand, or rather sit, regarding the morality of the proceedings.
The trouble is that even in Britten’s more acerbic version of this early musical (much enjoyed by the City of London Sinfonia under Christian Curnyn) the great swathes of stilted dialogue no longer titillate as they did back in the early 1700’s and scantily dressed “whores” spouting “thou” and “thy” and “have not” lends the wrong kind of incongruity and leaves what is on paper a classy cast floundering for laughs. Sadly, the only wit in Way’s staging is provided by Kimm Kovac and Andrew Hays’ resourceful designs where the ornate balcony facades fracture like the divided society of the day and a row of drink coolers is cleverly transformed into the shop windows of “the red light district”.
But that’s as far as it goes. Short of re-writing the book of The Beggar’s Opera and turning it into Eastenders – the musical there’s not much to be done to relieve the tedium. The many musical numbers serve as merely “snatches and patches”, often charming in themselves but none really developed sufficiently to build character and heighten emotion – as Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht did so unforgettably in The Threepenny Opera.
None of this cast looked or sounded especially comfortable in the dialogue and the singing was unexceptional. Leah-Marian Jones (Polly) and Sarah Fox (Lucy) had their moments clawing over Tom Randle’s rather uncharismatic Macheath, neither seeming to care that he’s a little past cavorting in his underpants. We, the audience, needed a lot of persuasion to endorse his reprieve from the gallows.
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Alien thigh bone' on Mars: Excitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
- 2 West poised to join forces with President Assad in face of Islamic State
- 3 Mother fed her daughter tapeworms to make her skinny for pageant
- 4 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 5 Pamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals: 'Mice had holes drilled into their skulls'
Jeremy Clarkson 'sees no problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
Lucy, film review: Scarlett Johansson will blow your mind in Luc Besson's complex thriller
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw
Miley Cyrus concert banned on morality grounds in the Dominican Republic
The Hateful Eight trailer: Teaser for Quentin Tarantino film leaks early
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile