The Beggar's Opera

John Gay and Johann Christoph Pepusch, in a new version by Ian Burton and Robert Carsen
Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord
King's Theatre

The Beggars Opera Credit: Patrick Berger

This inventive new interpretation of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera comes to Edinburgh from Peter Brook's renowned Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris.

As with the previous week's The Barber of Seville, ancient and modern collide satisfyingly. The staging uses contemporary costumes with a new translation utilising the slangy English of the current day. In addition, many of the cultural references will seem only too familiar to theatregoers from the news media.

By way of contrast, the music is beautifully rendered by Les Arts Florissants, dressed like vagabonds but playing period instruments.

The original story may be a couple of hundred years old but tales of dodgy crooks wooing beautiful molls while criminal mobsters and corrupt policeman connive for mutual benefit is still the stuff of hundreds of movies and TV shows every year.

The scene is set by Robert Burt's bullet-headed Mr Peachum, Mr Big might have been a more accurate description. He is a criminal lawyer, fence and general bad character, as is his wife, tunefully sung by Beverley Klein.

Although he works closely with the ridiculously handsome Macheath played by Benjamin Purkiss, who has more than just a pretty face, singing and acting very capably.

With guts, money and good looks, he is an inevitable honeypot for circling hordes of women, mostly whores. They are led by Kate Batter's Polly Peachum, not quite a chip off the old block but certainly wilful. She seems delighted to have married the young crook until events take a turn for the worse, thanks to the efforts of dear old dad.

In an effort to rob his sometime associate, Peachum colludes with police chief Lockit played by Kraig Thornber to get the young man arrested and to the gallows. However, another love-blinded daughter, Lucy Lockit played by Olivia Brereton, has different ideas.

Before the end of 2¼ frantic hours, the two women have fought and made up, loved and hated Macheath and cross their angrily disappointed fathers.

The dénouement, which has a blatant contemporary political angle, is inventive and brought great spontaneous applause.

Mixing theatre and opera, this is all great fun and the new version adds spice for a 21st-century audience, who should love the music, enjoy the singing and be swept up by a story that's speaks as much about their own time as Gay did about his.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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