The Beggar's Opera preview
The publicity images for Vanishing Point and the Royal Lyceum’s new adaptation of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera don’t look like your average promotional material for a classic work of 18th century satire. In fact, from a first glance, the backlit, (gas)masked vigilante taking centre stage, you’d think you were looking at the poster for a new superhero movie, adapted from a dark amoral graphic by the likes of Alan Moore, say. They’ve even made a trailer for it.
‘I’d say the whole thing has that sort of graphic novel texture about it, yeah,’ says director Matthew Lenton. ‘If I’m honest, one of the things that appealed to me was that The Beggar’s Opera has been around for a long time; John Gay’s been dead a long time. It gave us the freedom to fuck around with the original a bit.’
Gay’s original text pitted the charming, evasive highwayman MacHeath against the thieves and petty criminals of the English underworld. Lenton has found that the characters slotted easily into the sort of near-future urban nightmare that a modern, cineliterate audience would recognise from Alan Moore’s Watchmen or Christopher Nolan’s updating of the Batman franchise.
‘The superhero form is something that’s become very popular in mainstream cinema. Most of our superheroes now, they have two sides to them: the one side that sets out to help people, and the other which is kind of dark and fucked up and flawed. It struck me that that’s what MacHeath was like. So there’s a classic superhero element to our version: on the one side that dark, evasive persona, on the other side, this deeply flawed, deeply human thing going on. I wanted to play around with that idea.’
Lenton assures me that people who’ve loved the work will still find their favourite characters and the original spirit of the work intact, though.
‘All the relationships are still there. We’ve kept the story, the structure; we’ve just … rethought it. What I most like about the original is its primal, feral quality. It’s about the very essence of human behaviour. I like that, and I like that it’s not too intellectual a piece of work. It’s more about visceral texture and that animal side of being human.’
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, Sat 12 Sep–Sat 3 Oct