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The Beggar's Opera
The play opens with the Peachum's pretty daughter Polly (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) telling her parents Mr Peachum (Jasper Britton) and Mrs Peachum (Janet Fullerlove) that she has married the infamous highwayman, Captain Macheath (the very handsome David Caves). Fearing that Macheath has set his eyes on Polly's dowry, the Peachums plan to murder him. Macheath escapes and meets up with his gang and later goes to a tavern where he entertains some prostitutes, two of whom betray him and he is incarcerated in Newgate Jail. The corrupt jailer is Mr Lockit (Phil Daniels) whose daughter Lucy (Beverly Rudd) is pregnant by Macheath and who hopes he will marry her. Lucy and Polly compete for Macheath, he is recaptured after escaping from Newgate and sentenced to be sent to the gallows. Four more pregnant women plead for Macheath's life. I shall not reveal here whether Macheath swings or whether he escapes or is reprieved.
William Dudley's design is beautiful, turning the stage at the pretty, pastoral Open Air into the seedy back streets of London. An enormous barrel serves to house a room in a tavern and two carts serve, one as a bed from which Macheath will emerge from to sing a love song to Polly, with her unaware there are several other girls in there with him under the covers. The play opens with a traditional maypole dance but instead of ribbons they dance with heavy chains and then some are manacled reminding us of the likelihood of the gallows or transportation to the colonies. From the wooden frame above are reminders of the rope nooses. In the second act the carts are cleverly upturned and become a pair of hanging gallows with two miscreants facing their end.
Lucy Bailey gives us enough of a picture of this precarious, poverty ridden underclass existence to balance the comedy of the piece as girls romp around Macheath in varying states of undress. As Peachum says, "Gangsters and Highwaymen are generally very good to their whores but very devils to their wives." Maxine Doyle behind much of Punchdrunk's choreography is Movement Director with two of Punchdrunk's best, athletic dancers Fernanda Prata as Molly Brazen and Vinicius Salles as Turnley and Ned Clincher guaranteeing authentic looking fights and leaps from the top of the stage.
Beverly Rudd sings beautifully as Lucy Lockit and I liked Jasper Britton's understated villain Peachum. Janet Fullerlove's bawdy Mrs Peachum is a model of vulgarity and her daughter (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) seems quite refined until the magnificent fight between her and Lucy. Folk band The City Waites play the folk airs on authentic instruments.
Lucy Bailey's production is a remarkable recreation of low Hogarthian London and one where you might feel sorry for the girl winning Macheath as her husband, with a nasty sexual disease the likely outcome.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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