Theatre Review: The Beggar’s Opera

This period production of THE BEGGAR’S OPERA in Regent’s Park is a genuine show about London for Londoners.

It makes a pleasant change to go to a theatre and see a period work presented as the writer originally intended.

The vogue for updating Shakespeare is now so established that directors seem to spend a good deal of energy in defining the settings and delivery for the present day. Not that there is anything inherently wrong in rebranding, indeed the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has produced some remarkable new-look versions of The Bard’s work over the years.

But it was a joy to witness The Beggar’s Opera in a form that John Gay would have surely recognised as his own. Director Lucy Bailey and designer William Dudley have weaved a spell to suck you into a world where the rich were rich and the poor were living on the edge. Criminals and prostitutes, hangings and bad marriages are as you would believe.

The cell looked like Newgate Prison in the 18th Century, the gallows looked like Tyburn in the 18th Century and the orgy most certainly looked like an 18th Century orgy. The City Waites, a band who specialise in “period” music, played their way through the 69 tunes that Gay used in his masterwork.

But the reason the production worked so well was due to the captivating performances of the actors in the core roles. Jasper Britton as Mr Peachum had a wonderful rapport with both Janet Fullerlove as his “wife” and Phil Daniels playing jailer Mr Lockit.

Sparring partners Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Polly Peachum and Beverly Rudd as Lucy Lockit offered one of the musical highlights with a remarkable vocal display in the prison in front of the object of their affections, David Caves as Captain Macheath.

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The climax is a wonderful spectacle and sums up the humour of a satirical work originally devised to recapture the London stage from an excess of French and Italian opera as a show about London for Londoners.

* Showing at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Inner Circle, NW1, until Saturday, July 23.