When I first started attending West End shows, I thought that they had to consist of belting ballads and little substance. Edward Hall’s Sunny Afternoon was the first show to break this naive opinion of my younger self, by presenting me with something that was closer to reality.
As luck would have it, I heard that their former Dave Davies, George Maguire, was set to star in a modernised version of John Gay’s The Beggars Opera; so I knew it had to be something special.
And I was right.
I was fortunate enough to attend press night and was completely taken aback by the swell of talent that stood on the modest stage of the Park Theatre. The first thing that struck me was the fast-paced fire of Dougal Irvine’s words, effortlessly encapsulating 2012 the year of London’s great Olympic Games and asking but was it great for everyone?
The set was humble in stature but functioned perfectly in allowing to tell this twisted tale. A short prologue at the start sets up the history of The Beggars Opera, informing you of its various reincarnations throughout the years.
The script was spot on in rhyme and beat, it never felt anything but authentic and raw. Irvine conveyed so many sentiments and discussed a variety of issues in the short two hour running time. Likewise the original score woven in-between the words possessed a cynical and witty undertone yet melodically still sounded as soft and strong as The Sound of Silence.
Stuck firmly at the core is the heart and soul of the piece is our anti-hero and revolutionary leader, Macheath. The wild and hungry look in Maguire’s eye upon entrance left me knowing he was going to do this character more than justice. George’s Macheath starts off a cocky, ex reality star turned restless. He becomes the face of anti-establishment group The 99 Percenters and his outspoken words begin to rumble through London. As his online audience grows, his stunts become bigger and casualties start to occur. Mac begins to stumble, rather than stride, through the story as his conscience sits heavy with the voices of lost souls. This mental torture is shown in every expression and movement from Maguire, he brilliantly embodies the role of the fallen and vulnerable leader; now begging for change of a different kind.
The company consisted six actors, with all except George, jumping roles from scene to scene. Going from beggar, to revolutionary to reporter with such ease that the pace of the play was sustained and a strong community of support characters was built. David Burt and Simon Kane are the two figures of authority for Macheath to rally against, Jeremiah Peachum and Mayor Lockitt. Both actors did a splendid job in completely embodying their given stereotypes, providing strong central characters to educate the audience on the attitudes of authority.
Their daughters Polly Peachum and Lucy Lockitt (Lauren Samuels and Natasha Cottriall) represented dynamic opposites; Mac’s ever faithful wife and the mother of his child. This love triangle is further complicated by John McCrea’s Filtch, obedient employee of our newspaper mogul Peachum and competition for Polly’s heart. McCrea’s portrayal is smart and snippy providing a profound dramatic moment, and personal highlight for myself, with the song Artists.
The ending is strong and makes a definitive and inspiring statement that brought me to tears. Busker’s Opera speaks of so many important things, I would highly recommend seeing it twice just to give yourself a chance to catch all its content. In short, The Busker’s Opera to me represents a cocoon transformation in theatre; Beggars is the caterpillar and Buskers is the butterfly.