The Beggar's Opera
- Suzanne Black
- 17 September 2009
‘Adaptation’ doesn’t even begin to cover this reworking of John Gay’s 1728 ballad opera that satirised the political morality of the day. Retaining physical remnants of the original – the characters, core plot and a smattering of dialogue – Vanishing Point have opted for a multimedia collaborative approach. Drafting in singer-songwriter Louise Quinn and her band, borrowings from contemporary rock and pop (as Gay would have used), original songs and incidental music bump up against video segments, projected animations and spoken dialogue in this contemporary musical.
With the aesthetic a retro-futuristic mish mash of fetish wear, gas masks and a giant sand pit, the feel is steam punk, the setting a dystopian future where the criminal underworld is literally subterranean and MacHeath is the love-rat villain du jour, loved and decried by the media in equal measure.
The crowd-pleasing vulgarities (also ripped straight from Gay’s day), lewd sexuality and campy moments of humour carry the short production along swiftly. The performances range from Restoration comedy’s stock figures to soap opera’s jilted lovers and Quinn’s band (onstage throughout) can’t be faulted for their musical talent.
Much has been made of connections to Alan Moore’s similarly dystopic graphic novels, but director Matthew Lenton eschews their subversive power and dodges the overt, us versus them, noble poor versus corrupt rich message of the original. What’s left is a brief engagement with the notion of a totalitarian media and a stylish, playful adaptation that remains faithful to all but the core of the original: good old-fashioned anti-authoritarian dissent.
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until Sat 3 Oct