Review: The Beggar’s Opera, Open Air Theatre

“You will always be a vulgar slut”

The Beggar’s Opera written by John Gay in 1728 was the first example of the ballad opera, perhaps the forerunner to today’s jukebox musicals in folding in pre-existing tunes to a satirical narrative that poked fun at the ever-popular Italian operas that were all the rage. Gay set his play in amongst the lowlifes of society, our main protagonist Macheath is a highwayman and raging lothario and the slowly twisting plot follows his shenanigans as he gets married to Polly Peachum, despite having gotten Lucy Lockit pregnant, unaware that the parents of both are part of a corrupt justice system that would happily see him hang so that his reputed fortune would come to them. Lucy Bailey directs this production which takes place in the elegant Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park.

The overall impact is somewhat underwhelming though, the score not really proving to be melodically distinct enough, nor the story witty or moving enough to really crackle with life. For 2 hours 40 minutes, there is very little to the plot and much of the running time is taken over by the 69 songs that are sung throughout the show. Though mostly sung well, these rarely progress the action but rather arrest the flow and as the vast majority of them fall neatly into the English folk ballad category, there’s a gnawing sense of repetition that sets in. And even when there is no singing, there’s little vibrancy or energy on stage, movement director Maxine Doyle of Punchdrunk has introduced a rather sluggish pace and Bailey’s direction does not draw out enough of the comedy from the productions or her performers. Continue reading “Review: The Beggar’s Opera, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Richard II, Tobacco Factory

“Weak men must fall, for heaven still guards the right”

Trekking out to Bristol’s Tobacco Factory to see Richard II may seem like pushing it even for me, but there was good reason to make the journey as playing the title role was winner of the 2010 fosterIAN Best Actor in a Play, John Heffernan. The production is by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, a semi-repertory company now in their 12th season yet this is their first stab at one of the Histories, with The Comedy of Errors following this production.

Forming the first part of Shakespeare’s second tetralogy, it follows the decline of the egotistical Richard II’s reign, charting the tragic fall of a man from divinely-appointed King to mere mortal, contrasted with the rise to power of Bullingbrooke, later Henry IV, who capitalises on Richard’s profligacy and impetuous nature to marshal the nobility into supporting his cause and overthrowing the anointed King for the good of the nation. It is very poetic being almost all in verse and stands alone as a play, a historical tragedy for the most part, although there’s elements of lightness and a rather incongruous comedy scene towards the end and the late introduction of some supporting players who don’t really come into their own until later plays. Continue reading “Review: Richard II, Tobacco Factory”