Sunday, July 17, 2011

Last Thursday Owen took me to see the Open Air Regent's Park's production of THE BEGGAR'S OPERA - and it didn't rain, hurrah!Now Constant Reader as you might or not know, I have history with John Gay's ballad opera.

Back in 1982 at the National Theatre, Richard Eyre staged a version of BEGGAR'S in the Cottesloe while in repertory with his legendary production of GUYS AND DOLLS and SCHWEYK IN THE 2ND WORLD WAR at the Olivier. If I wasn't in my favorite front-row seat for GUYS I would be in the Cottesloe enjoying the remarkable company take on this famous satire of morality and justice, brought forward to the Victorian era.

Headed by Paul Jones' swaggering Gorbals Macheath, he was superbly matched by Harry Towb's Belfast Mr. Peachum, June Watson's Una O'Connor-ish Mrs. Peachum, David Ryall's Mr. Lockit, Kevin Williams' scene-stealing Filch, Belinda Sinclair's lovelorn Polly Peachum and, above all, Imelda Staunton's terrier-like Lucy Lockit - spitting venom one minute, tremulous with love the next. Her version of "I, like the fox, shall grieve" will never be bettered.Oddly enough when the production was filmed for Channel Four, it seemed to lose a lot of it's uniqueness in the translation.

Lucy Bailey's production places the action back in 1728 when it was first staged and is aided immeasurably by William Dudley's clever design - framing the action under two large Tyburn gibbets and utilising two large tumbrels fashioned into various settings.Sadly I suspect I have been spoiled by being introduced to the show by such a wonderful company as this production, although good in parts, could not find an even footing.

Maybe it was the surroundings, I didn't feel the park setting helped the grimy and Olde London atmosphere that this show demands. The tone also seemed to strain too hard with it's acknowledged Hogarth inspiration being laid on with a very heavy trowel in the first half. The show settled down in the second half with the appearance of the First Family of Newgate, the Lockits.Both Phil Daniels as the snarling Lockit and Beverly Rudd as a powerhouse Lucy, mixing both the thwarted mistress' conniving and bruised tenderness to good effect, were outstanding. Rudd was a very funny Red Riding Hood in the Open Air's INTO THE WOODS last year so it was great to see her again.
Jasper Britton was a venal Peachum although the over-the-top performance of Janet Fullerlove as Mrs. Peachum was a disappointment. Flora Spencer-Longhurst was a winning Polly Peachum and while David Caves was an energetic Macheath - and played his comedy scenes with his warring lovers well - he was a bit lacking in the charisma stakes - his Macheath also liked to show off his physique which proves there *were* gyms in the 18th Century!

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