Concert review

THE BEGGAR'S OPERA Cardboard Citizens and the Baylis Programme at English National Opera; Bridewell Theatre, London: 30 September to 23 October 1999

This new version of John Gay's ever popular tale by Justin Gregson coincided with a concert performance of the Brecht/Weil Threepenny Opera at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, given with great professionalism, but with the singers reading from their scores, which reportedly diminished its impact. At the Bridewell, we were on both sides of an open acting space, close by the action and the genuinely homeless actors who took many of the parts, giving it all a sharper resonance. The Bridewell is one of London's most enterprising fringe theatres, with a well-deserved reputation for innovative musicals.

This is an admirable collaboration, part of an elaborate and highly successful outreach programme in Southwark, which involved schools and hostels. It does not quite reach the heights of some well remembered productions of this subversive and satirical story of all pervasive corruption and morality turned upside down, but is played with zest and energy, making good use of the long acting area which demanded sprinting expertise alongside acting and singing skills.

The music took in many of the songs and tunes from the original Pepusch version, with the addition of more up to date numbers. The singing was backed by inventive instrumentation by Greg Palmer, at the keyboards. He was abetted by a small and resourceful group of fine players, Rachel Davies (violin/keyboards), Steve Peters (saxes/flutes), Jeremy Harrison (guitars/trombone) and James Wilson (percussion). The large cast doubled for the multitude of disreputable characters, and acquitted themselves with great credit under the direction of Adrian Jackson. Captain Macheath and his two wives were well taken by James Staddon, Victoria Ward and Sophia Langham. The singing was coached by the distinguished mezzo Mary King, who took the part of Mrs Peachum, the thief-taker's wife, and another cameo part.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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