"A Modernised and Vibrant Adaptation"
by Paul Ackroyd for remotegoat on 12/11/16

We've kept some things and changed some things and modernised the plot " says the beggar at the start of Lazarus Theatre Company's new version of John Gay's classic now playing at the Brockley Jack studio Theatre. The Beggar's Opera was notable and notorious at the time it was written in 1728 for taking the world of musical theatre away from the artifice of comfortable society into the real world of corruption, crime and vice. Those themes are as relevant today as they were then and the play remains as scurrilous.

The director Ricky Dukes has done a major rewrite reducing the overall length to only 80 minutes without an interval and while keeping the basic structure of the plot and some of the texture of the original language has introduced contemporary references. All the favourite characters of Guy's original remain, but it is presented very much as an ensemble piece with most of the young cast in view of the audience at all times. It is staged in the round in the Brockley Jack's Studio Theatre on a bare stage demarcated with a number of coloured lines. Stage furniture and such props as required a re brought on by the cast as needed.

New music and lyrics have also been written by Bobby Locke, which were very effective, the tunes were catchy and well sung by the cast. Particularly notable was the choreography , a combination of dance and stylistic movement, which meant that was never a dull moment and the close proximity of the audience on all sides of the acting area made for a very direct interaction between the cast and audience. The lighting was effective in heightening the mood and the music although recorded worked well.

Sherwood Alexander played the key role of Macheath as amoral, self-confident and endearing, and the highlight of the piece was the scene in the prison where his competing lovers Polly and Lucy excellently played respectively by Michaela Bennison and Elizabeth Hollingshead circle him singing them own praises and deriding the other. It was a nice touch to have them dressed in contrasting red and green.

There is plenty in this lively new version to delight and surprise both those returning to an old favourite and those who are seeing it for the first time.

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