Kneehigh’s take on The Beggar’s Opera is inventive and unusual, incorporating a range of theatrical devices to make the story come to life.
Starting with the assassination of Mayor Goodman at the hands of contract killer Macheath, the story follows power-hungry Mr and Mrs Peachum as they fight to dominate the town. Of course, sinful Macheath causes endless problems, not least by marrying Polly Peachum (and the jail keeper’s daughter, too, for good measure.)
The plot is thrilling and the adaptation of The Beggar’s Opera is accessible to everyone. There were plenty of teenagers in the audience who laughed and applauded the whole way through – so absolute credit must go to Kneehigh for creating a way to bring such a classic play bang up to date.
This is the first time I’ve seen a Kneehigh production, and I was impressed by the stunning use of puppetry and set. Though simplistic (despite the giant and perhaps unnecessary flying skeleton dog (?) at the end of the show), the cast moves round the set with ease, bringing a calm sense of flow to what could have been quite a manic production.
The cast are, in the majority, superb. Angela Hardie, who plays Polly Peachum, has an angelic voice and commands attention each time she appears on stage. Some cast members don’t quite have the singing ability to match their acting talents, but all of them embraced the production with enthusiasm and energy.
Though slightly irritating for my taste, Rina Fatania’s Mrs Peachum provides most of the laughs. Personally I think the comedy star of the show is Jack Shalloo, who plays a variety of demanding roles and has a stunning singing voice too.
It seems a strange thing to say, but the character I loved most was Macheath. I absolutely rooted for him and found myself so drawn to Dominic Marsh, who plays the role. Often Macheath is played as a brooding and dark character, but Marsh offers a new take – Macheath in this production has an almost innocent charm. The character reminded me of Johnny Flynn’s Mooney in Hangmen – a totally likeable bad guy.
The music, composed and directed by Charles Hazlewood, was slightly hit and miss for my personal taste. Whilst some of the songs are touching and beautifully written, others seem thrown in to add a bit of light relief. Having said this, the teenagers in the audience seemed to adore the sillier songs in the production, so in this respect I think Kneehigh got the blend of songs spot on. To my disappointment, the song Mack The Knife didn’t make an appearance, but it’s still in my head nonetheless!
If you’re a fan of Kneehigh, and open to new theatrical interpretations, then I would definitely recommend checking out this show. The production runs until 7th November at West Yorkshire Playhouse, before touring.