THE BEGGAR’S OPERA
by John Gay.
Open Air Theatre Inner Circle Regent’s Park NW1 4NR To 23 July 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.15pm.
Captioned 16 July 2.15pm.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 826 4242.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 June.
Slow start but ends in top gear.
Its contemporary popularity’s long-faded, but Lucy Bailey’s Regent’s Park revival of The Beggar’s Opera eventually makes clear there’s still a kick in John Gay’s 1728 satire – though the once-popular tunes, now best-known (if at all) as children’s songs, are often so brief as to be mere asides within the action.
For its first act Bailey’s production lumbers along on an over-assertive set, divided into the Peachums’ home, receding into a massive wine-vat, and a vast bed from which their daughter Polly emerges with highwayman-husband Macheath. The sense of design trying to provide comedy is exacerbated by singing that’s forced in high notes and fussily punctuated with actions.
After the interval, transformation. William Dudley’s set upends two huge carts to form Macheath’s prison-cell, where Peachum and jailer Lockit argue, before agreeing they’ll thrive best by mutual cooperation, while their daughters argue over Macheath. Drenched in the moonlight shades of Oliver Fenwick’s lighting, the production looks lovely, while gaining comic vitality.
Phil Daniels’ strutting, Lockit, every statement an announcement, faces-up to Jasper Britton’s forceful Peachum; Britton’s body leans menacingly over Daniels, whose head juts challengingly forward. These are the hard-men, taking backhanders or running criminal operations behind a legal front.
Don’t mess with the Lockits; act two also brings Beverly Rudd’s redoubtable Lucy, Macheath’s spurned lover, her rage taken out with comic fury on a mattress, while her singing has strength and directness – expressing character rather than being accompanied by mannerisms.
The women’s fight is viciously hilarious (running thieves and prisons must be childsplay to controlling daughters), and when Macheath escapes, the scene opens onto an 18th-century pleasure garden, a setting ideal for the Open Air Theatre. Here, people dance elegantly to Handel (The City Waites’ playing of Roddy Skeaping’s swaggering musical arrangements is delightful throughout).
Bailey achieves Hogarthian bustle as Macheath’s carted to Tyburn, the crowds swirling with avid cruelty around his tumbril, Peachum and Lockit revolving in armchairs above. The final operatic reprieve is reserved for the star-turn as multiple turnings-off go on behind. For, as Bertolt Brecht put it in his Threepenny Opera, “Those in darkness you don’t see.”
Mr Peachum: Jasper Britton.
Filch: Oliver Hoare.
Mrs Peachum: Janet Fullerlove.
Polly Peachum: Flora Spencer-Longhurst.
Macheath: David Caves.
Ben Budge: Jack Bannell.
Matt of the Mint: Keith Dunphy.
Turnkey/Ned Clincher: Vinicius Salles.
Jemmy Twitcher: Rob McNeill.
Jenny Diver: Lucie Skeaping.
Molly Brazen: Fernanda Prata.
Turnkey/Mrs Traipes: Frank Scantori.
Mrs Slammekin/Mrs Trraipes’ Assistant: Karen Anderson.
Suky Tawdry: Akiya Henry.
Mr Lockit: Phil Daniels.
Lucy Lockit/Dolly Trull: Beverly Rudd.
Ensemble: Sophie Barker, Seamus Bradford, Eleanor Dillon-Reams, Harper James, James McMillan, Julian Moore-Cook, Ed Pinker, Paul Piper, Asha Reid, Effie Wilson.
Director: Lucy Bailey.
Designer: William Dudley.
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick.
Sound: Mike Walker.
Music Arranger/Musical Director: Roddy Skeaping.
Voice coach/Text consultant: Barbara Houseman.
Dialect coach: Majella Hurley.
Movement: Maxine Doyle.
Fight director: Terry King.
Assistant director: Guy Unsworth.