The Beggar's Opera, Royal Opera House, London
Tuesday 27 January 2009
You could experience a momentary double-take walking into the Royal Opera's Linbury Studio Theatre – thinking you've taken a wrong turn into the main house, as a cross-section of the ornate balconies and familiar red curtains of the latter confronts you. John Gay's original The Beggar's Opera was so successful that it laid the foundations for the theatre that is now the Royal Opera House.
However, Justin Way's new staging of Benjamin Britten's brilliant and creative re-pointing of Gay's "ballad opera" is dropped firmly into our own times where the sale of alcohol and women are roughly commensurate. And because 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 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, and scantily dressed "whores" spouting "thou" and "thy" 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's resourceful designs where the ornate balcony façades 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 "snatches and patches", often charming in themselves but none really developed 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 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.
To 31 January (020-7304 4000)
Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigourfilm
Bannatyne leaves Dragon's DenTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Game of Thrones author George RR Martin says 'f*** you' to fans who fear he will die before finishing Westeros saga
- 2 Loom bands: Bids for dress made from colourful rubber reach almost £154,000 on eBay
- 3 PornHub begs users to stop uploading video clips of Brazil getting beaten 7-1
- 4 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 5 L'Oreal cuts ties with Belgium supporter Axelle Despiegelaere after hunting trip photographs
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
War is war: Why I stand with Israel