BWW Review: THE BEGGAR'S OPERA, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 9 November 2016

What better time to portray the venality of the Big City's sordid underbelly than in the aftermath of the rebellion of the rural and suburban against the urban that is one of many explanations for the United States Presidential election 2016? In Ricky Dukes' modernised adaptation of John Gay's 1728 classic, the arbitrary chaos of London life is laid bare, as a young girl makes a hasty match with a highwayman whose days are numbered in, this time round, an unforgiving world.

Back in the tight space of the Brockley Jack Studio after February's The Caucasian Chalk Circle (reviewed here), Lazarus Theatre inject their familiar brand of theatrical energy into a bold new vision of a well known play. Inevitably what emerges is something of a mixed bag.

The songs - all new by Bobby Locke - are strong (and it was a ballsy call to leave out any allusion to "Mack The Knife") and sung well by a young cast who also pull off some impressive setpieces, choreographed and delivered with assurance and skill. Bold too is the use of improvised props, a courtroom constructed with little more than adhesive tape and a hat stand or two for Macheath's interrogation.

The acting is variable - in time I expect it to settle a bit - but the contrast between the quiet, almost shy, conman-thief (Sherwood Alexander's Macheath) and the declamatory style of his wife's anguished parents is, even in a highly stylised production, jarring in its impact, particularly since the original 18th century text is retained for the speeches. The ear gets a bit of a bashing - was "Slut!" really as pervasive an insult as it seems to have been? Some actors (many play multiple roles) also need to slow down a little, as their diction is affected by the impassioned characterisations, and also take due notice of the fact that we're only ever a few feet away from them at any time.

An all-through show (as so many productions seem to be these days), it helps to know a little of the plot as the action builds scene by scene, Macheath's trail of dubious promises and debauchery unpacked by an increasingly populous group of accusers. It's a sorry tale, and one that the city's dark alleyways and dirty money ensures is played out as much in the early years of the 21st century as it was in the early years of the 18th. However, just a little more relaxing from all involved, would let the text breathe and ensure that we absorb its timeless lessons.

The Beggar's Opera continues at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 3 December.

Photo - Adam Trigg

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From This Author Gary Naylor