Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Convicts' Opera

7 March 2009
Warwick Arts Centre

Bawdy fun and food for thought!

I LOVE plays within plays – there are so many layers, so many questions as to who exactly the audience is and does life imitate art or vice versa. It makes my head spin, so fancying a bit of theatrical dizziness, I jumped at the chance of seeing director Max Stafford Clark’s re-imagining of John Gays The Beggars’ Opera, written by Stephen Jeffreys and co-produced by Out of Joint and the Sydney Theatre Company.

The Beggars’ Opera is not merely seen as the first musical. Set in the underworld of 18th century London, the criminals vices mirror those of the rich and as such is a powerful satire of the time. It is, in itself, also great fun and packed with romance and intrigue and this new twist just adds to the entertainment.

In this re-working, it’s all set on an 18th century ship where, a group of convicts on their way to Australia, put on the show which depicts the life that they are leaving far behind. In doing so art begins to mirror life and confusion between artificial construction and reality runs riot.

There is also a wonderful score which combines the folk tunes of the original with fun reworkings of modern classics including "Sailing", “Those Were The Days”, “500 Miles”, “You’re So Vain”, and “I Fought the Law”.

Forget about why a ship’s captain would let prisoners stage something so subversive, and you will enjoy it very much because it is an inventive and enjoyable romp with some great performances from a top ensemble cast.

Top in my book was Juan Jackson who begins to identify fully with Macheath, the character he has to portray. And my enjoyment of his charismatic performance has nothing to do at all with the scene where he displays his perfectly toned and outstanding body in a small pair of swimming trunks – honest! He had a fab voice too!

But I also enjoyed Ali McGregor as the lovestruck Polly Peachum with an arsonist alter-ego packed with attitude and Glenn Butcher as the slightly camp director trying to mould this group of outcasts into a company.

The Convicts’ Opera is a pile of bawdy fun but alongside the actual journey across the world, there is also a spiritual journey for the convicts as the transformational power of drama works its magic.

Then afterwards, spend the entire journey home arguing with your husband about whether the swimming trunks scene was strictly necessary. For the record, I thought it was. And Mr FB is heading for the gym! Bless!

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