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Festival Review: The Beggar's Opera ***

Michael Cox reviews a production that's 'fun, but isn't the blast of creativity it seems to think it is'.

The Beggar’s Opera certainly deserves its place in theatre history. Quite possibly the first popular musical comedy in the English language, the story of double-timing thugs trying to get one over the system and each other has relevant shockwaves.

Maybe that’s why the decision was made to make this production ‘modern’. The orchestra rush onto the stage, carrying boxes as if they’re on the run from a heist only to reveal their instruments stowed inside. The performers look and act as if they were from recent times. The libretto has been spruced up with current references and slang. And the music is...period Georgian.

All of which makes this Opera come across more as an experiment in clever staging than an honest production.

There are certainly strong elements. Robert Burt, Beverly Klein and Kraig Thornber are a lot of fun as the antagonist crooks Mr and Mrs Peachum and Mr Lockit, and Kate Batter and Olivia Brereton are both great as the love interests. But any Beggar’s Opera production is going to hinge on its Macheath, and here we have one of the great strengths of the evening: Benjamin Purkiss. His James Dean looks and confident swagger gives credibility to the character’s cad nature, and he has a lot of fun throughout the performance.

The end result is a show that’s good enough but seems shortchanged by its own concepts from greatness. It’s fun, but it isn’t the blast of creativity it seems to think it is.

The Beggar’s Opera was part of this year’s EIF, and its run has ended.

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