REVIEW: Sharp satire, saucy jokes and clever tunes in The Beggar’s Opera

The Beggar’s Opera, The Archway Theatre, Horley, until November 7

The Beggar's Opera by the Archway Theatre Company. Jessica Jill Photography
The Beggar's Opera by the Archway Theatre Company. Jessica Jill Photography

I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Beggar’s Opera.

To be honest, I couldn’t imagine how John Gay’s parody of Italian opera and criticism of 18th century society would engage me as a viewer. I was also concerned that director Gary Andrews said in the programme that he used to find the show boring.

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However, I reassured myself with the thought that the Archway has a pretty good track record and generally brings these quirky pieces to the stage with confidence and flair. I reasoned that the trip to Horley would be worth it.

The Beggar's Opera by the Archway Theatre Company. Jessica Jill Photography

And I was right.

The Beggar’s Opera by the Archway isn’t some dull relic from theatrical history. It’s a sprightly satire packed with saucy wenches, dashing criminals and robust musical numbers.

The production tells the story of Peachum (Mark Bellchambers), a ‘professional informer’ who plots to send his daughter’s highwayman husband Macheath (Kevin Day) to the gallows.

For those unfamiliar with the conventions of 18th century society some of the legal jokes are a little hard to follow, especially when made in song form. However, the performers really nail it when presenting more universal gags about relationships between men and women.

The Beggar's Opera by the Archway Theatre Company. Jessica Jill Photography

It’s hilarious how two characters – Polly and Lucy, played by Laura Day and Siobhan Ames respectively – vie for the affections of Macheath in a series of songs rich with jealousy and catty remarks.

It’s also a great moment when Macheath is presented as an incorrigible womanizer who summons a team of females for a fun night in. They sing ‘Youth’s the Season’ with all the bawdy energy you’d expect.

A drunk Diana Trapes is a delight too, thanks to a rowdy performance from Paula Mayne. Her observations about people knocking back the booze as they get older are particularly amusing.

The play isn’t very PC, of course, but it was written in 1728. In fact, the blunt 18th century opinions, and lack of concern about people’s feelings, add real bite to the satire. It’s the perfect antidote for those who feel worn down by our obsessive fears about ‘causing offence’.

Most importantly though, the singing in The Beggar’s Opera is good all round, especially from the excellent Laura Day.

The performers effortlessly switch between complicated dialogue and musical numbers in a way that draws the audience into the show’s wry, vibrant and enjoyably grotesque world.

Tickets for the show cost £8.50 to £10 and can be purchased from 01293 781059. Alternatively, log on to www.archwaytheatre.co.uk.

Follow the theatre on twitter @ArchwayHorley or Facebook.

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