The Beggar's Opera, Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London
Thursday 07 July 2011
With its bosky setting, there is no better venue in London for presenting a pastoral play than Regent's Park's Open Air Theatre. As such, it's also the ideal place for staging an anti-pastoral. The pointed and piquant counter-intuitiveness of such a project is proven by director Lucy Bailey and designer William Dudley's cunningly conceived and splendidly spirited production of John Gay's groundbreaking 1728 satire. Gay replaced the far-removed trappings of fashionable Italian opera with the criminals and prostitutes of contemporary London, swapping elaborately artificial arias for vernacular ballads set, ironically, to pre-existing airs.
Revivals of the piece often founder – either by turning it into a blithely bawdy romp or by emphasising the corrupt blackness at the expense of the brio. Boasting a character, Peachum, who is both a police spy and a receiver of stolen goods, and uncovering the extent to which crime and the law are in incestuous cahoots, The Beggar's Opera inspired Brecht to rewrite it as The Threepenny Opera.
The success of this version emerges from the swagger and finesse of the piece's firmly eighteenth century setting, its continuing relevance left implicit. Performed by six-piece band City Waites, the music has been re-scored for period instruments (cittern, lute, bagpipes and theorbo) giving the mostly well-sung airs a fresh, street and tavern feel. In witty subversion of the sylvan surroundings, Dudley's design is dominated by a huge wooden gallows around which chained prisoners execute a lively mock-maypole dance. Newgate's walls and interiors are improvised from the giant tumbrils that took the condemned to Tyburn. Scenes seethe with the blackly satiric energy of Hogarth paintings .
In an exceptionally characterful cast, Phil Daniels captures the malevolence of corrupt jailer Lockit to queasily comic effect. As Lucy Lockit, Beverley Rudd packs a hilariously hefty punch in her slapstick scuffles with Polly Peachum (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) over David Caves's amusingly smug heart-throb/highwayman Macheath.
Mingling caustic commentary with creative zest, the production ends with a coup de theatre that's the last word in gallows humour.
To 23 July (0844 826 4242)
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Florida man sentenced to two-and-a-half years for having sex on the beach in front of a child
- 2 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 3 Nick Kyrgios calls former Olympian Dawn Fraser a 'blatant racist' after she tells Wimbledon star to 'go back where their parents came from'
- 4 World learns of app that shows you who unfriended you on Facebook, app promptly crashes
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Chronixx interview: Reggae sensation on taking the opening spot at Glastonbury and calling Barack Obama a 'waste man'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director Jack Bender says showrunners 'communicate closely' with George RR Martin
Top Gear: Jeremy Clarkson 'can't front ITV motoring show' due to BBC contract clause
Amy Winehouse film: Mark Ronson praises 'respectful' movie as it scores highest ever UK opening for British documentary
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
Greece debt crisis: Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande issue Athens with 24-hour ultimatum to avoid crashing out of the euro
Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy