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Posts Tagged ‘Dougal Irvine’

There have been countless productions and adaptations of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera since it was first performed in 1728, the most famous of which was Brecht & Weil’s The Threepenny Opera exactly two-hundred years later in 1928. It wasn’t an opera, but a musical satire on opera, and it is believed to be the first musical. Only last year Kneehigh gave us their take on it, Dead Dog in a Suitcase (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/dead-dog-in-a-suitcase-and-other-love-songs). Sixteen years ago it was adapted as The Villain’s Opera at the National, which did a great production of the original in the 80’s. Out Of Joint did a version called The Convict’s Opera seven years ago (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2009/03/22/the-convicts-opera). The RSC did it in the 90’s. The Open Air Theatre did it five years ago (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/the-beggars-opera). Now Dougal Irvine gives us his own modern take, set in London during the 2012 Olympics. Though I don’t share his cynical view of The Games, I did like his adaptation and I think its the best of the modern ones.

He starts by putting it in the context of the Gay original and Brecht & Weill’s adaptation in an opening explanatory scene, which helps an audience new to it. Macheath is the busker, wannabe rock star and former talent show contestant. He marries Polly Peachum, daughter of a newspaper baron, and impregnates Lucy Lockit, design goods obsessed daughter of the London Mayor, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the outdoing buffoon. Peachum’s sidekick Macheath and Polly are part of a protest group called 99%, intent on disrupting The Games and exposing London’s oppression of its underclass. It’s a clever adaptation, all in rhyming couplets, with a higher body count than I remember from other productions and adaptations.

One of its great strengths is the quality of Irvine’s music; he really does know how to write a good tune. He also writes sharp satirical, witty lyrics, though I did wonder if a book writer might have helped to give the show more shape. It’s other strength is in the casting. George Maguire, pretty much direct from his Olivier winning performance as Dave Davies in Sunny Afternoon, is perfectly cast as Macheath, with great charisma and swagger. Simon Kane’s Boris inspired Mayor is a hoot, aided by seeing it on the eve of the London Mayoral election. They are very lucky to have someone of the calibre and experience of David Burt, who delivers a rather sinister Peachum (he was Peachum in The Villain’s Opera and Macheath in the RSC’s production!). Lauren Samuels, herself direct from her superb performance in Bend It Like Beckham, is a sweet but feisty Polly and recent Mountview graduate Natasha Lockitt is in terrific vocal form as Lucy.

I felt Lotte Wakeham’s production was a bit rough at the edges, but I liked its chutzpah and edginess and would certainly recommend it. Next up is the National’s revival of The Threepenny Opera, newly adapted by Simon Stephens, later in the month; if only Gay knew what he’d started……

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The week’s third new British musical turns out to be more of a play with music, a story with music even, but its a very good one

We spend an evening with Teddy & Josie, individually and together, as they get ready for, and go on, a night out in 1950’s Elephant & Castle, where the Southwark Playhouse is located. They are part of that post-war group of Teddy boys and girls, the country’s first teenage rebels, who subverted Edwardian dress (hence Teddy’s – I didn’t know that before) to create a cool new style, with attitude. Rock & Roll is arriving from the US and both are fans of Johnny Valentine & the Broken Hearts. From their respective bedrooms to some wasteland to the Coronet cinema to a club where Johnny is doing a secret gig, they tell us a lot about their lives and what the Ted’s are all about – and they fall in love.

Tristan Bernays play is great storytelling and it’s in verse, which is inspired and brilliant. The excellent onstage four-piece band play Dougal Irvine’s period perfect original songs (and a few others) starting 15 minutes before the show and continuing after. Even though its effectively a two-hander, it gets superb staging from Eleanor Rhode, who was also responsible for the terrific revival of Toast at the Park Theatre last year. Joseph Prowen and Jennifer Kirby and both fantastic as Teddy & Josie, looking and sounding perfect 50’s, including poses and facial expressions that seem straight out of the period.

It took me a short while to get into the rhythm of the piece, and for the sound to settle, but then it drew me in and captivated me. A very original work, highly recommended. You can even get a download of three songs with the programme, which surely must be a first!

 

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This is the second of the Edinburgh ones-that-got-away that I’ve caught up with back in London and boy am I glad I did!

It’s a musical where four lads in the departure lounge at a Spanish airport look back at their hedonistic week in the sun and reflect on life at the crossroads between school and university. I was expecting mere ladishness, but what surprised me was how much depth the rights-of-passage story has, the richness of the characterisation and how much it has to say about friendship.

In some musicals the songs seem artificially ‘slotted in’, but here Dougal Irvine’s excellent music is completely in keeping with the context, the tale and the characters. Accompanied by two acoustic guitars, the brilliantly funny lyrics are all clearly audible and the singing is first class – I was particularly impressed by the voice of Liam Tamne, but Chris Fountain, Jack Shalloo and Steven Webb also sang very well.

I felt a bit sorry for Verity Rushworth in the role of Sophie which is pivotal but a bit under-written, making her seem an ‘extra’, but she played it very well indeed. Spesh Moloney and the composer provided fine accompaniment.

This is an uplifting feel good show which I really hope has a life beyond this short run at Waterloo East Theatre (itself a welcome addition to the cultural landscape of SE1), but don’t wait, go now while you can.

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