Writer/ Composer: Dougal Irvine
Choreographer: Lucie Pankhurst
Director: Lotte Wakeham
Reviewer: Daniel Perks
On a day when Londoners were out in force to vote in the latest set of Mayoral elections, The Buskers Opera presented anti-capitalist verses to the world on what can only be assumed as a deliberate choice of date.
The latest creation of composer/ lyricist/ writer Dougal Irvine, the production initially takes its audience back to 1728 and John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera before fast-forwarding to 2012 and the London Olympics. This event, seen as an unmitigated success and boost to London’s reputation, is portrayed here as the pinnacle of capitalism and corporate greed implemented by billionaire media mogul Jeremiah Peachum (David Burt) and his marionette doll Mayor Lockitt (Simon Kane). Of course, every rich villain needs a Robin Hood, a modern-day minstrel to fight against the injustice and represent the activists (here known as the 99percenters).
Enter Macheath (George Maguire), a Russell Brand imitation armed with Lothario-like charms and inspired musicianship, perfectly poised to stand as the antithesis to the middle-aged suits. An immediately popular choice, he is put on a digital pedestal to represent the outcasts, with obvious love-triangle related consequences. Unfortunately, the two ladies that he embroils himself with are the children of the rival side – rebellious romantic Polly Peachum (Lauren Samuels) and self-entitled siren Lucy Lockitt (Natasha Cottriall). As things slowly get out of hand, Macheath does not seem to retain the morals that he proclaims to have.
In an homage to Gay’s founding theatrical work, Irvine keeps the core storyline fairly classical but sets it in modern-day with satire and relatable characters – it doesn’t take a genius to draw parallels between the corporate heads and their real-life counterparts. Shabby chic is the name of the game in Anna Kezia Williams’ design, minimal backdrop and cardboard box props for this low budget, high impact performance.
The script is (almost) entirely in verse, not dissimilar to Tim Minchin’s incredibly successful musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. A couple of slightly contrived exceptions aside, the rhyming is clever, innovative and has a driving pulse to match the play’s impetus. The music too is fitting for a West End musical, with all the expected emotional variety. In keeping with its protestations, there is an easy comparison to that of Madness or Blur rallying against the fat-cats for the working class people. Songs like Killersor Peachy’s Printing House are heavy with political messaging and open 5th chords that give an uneasy undercurrent. A diverse set of voices is a welcome addition to the melting pot here – the more vibrato tones of Mayor Lockitt (Kane) juxtapose the gravel heard in Macheath (Maguire) or Filtch (John McCrea).
A strong overall cast makes this production a cut above the rest. The bar set for Maguire as an Olivier-award winner is high and his experiences in Sunny Afternoon stand him in good stead here. The stand-out performance, however, comes from opinionated anti-feminist Lucy Lockitt (Cottriall); her sense of timing make the fast-paced lyrical raps that she fires out come alive. Undoubtedly the highlights of the play are her waxing lyrical in Do You Want a Baby, Baby? and the collaborative efforts with Polly Peachum (Samuels) in Phone Calls. Samuels’ voice is also worthy of note – full of control, emotion and range.
The ending of The Buskers Opera is a touch mainstream and not quite in keeping with the charge that the remainder of the play has generated. But despite this conceptual hiccough, Irvine pens another potential masterpiece with wit and purpose. John Gay’s work lives on once more.
Runs until 4 June 2016 | Image: Simon Annand