Written in 1728, John Gay’s satirical drama, The Beggar’s Opera was the first known ballad opera, poking fun at the very popular extravagant Italian opera of the time. It is a silly story, but one filled with vivid characters and popular folk tunes. Acclaimed director Lucy Bailey brings this raucous tale to the seasonal Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre for a limited run.
To one side of the stage a small band, the City Waites, provide the music using authentic instruments. Led by a lively Roddy Skeaping on violin and bass viol, the band is fantastic – rich in tone and characte,r adding depth to the narrative. The stage is appropriately decorated with beds and wooden carts, a clever and adaptable design from William Dudley.
The large cast are full of oomph, despite the wearying heat, and act and sing with a youthful energy. Jasper Britton is a suitably stern Mr Peachum, and Janet Fullerlove is hilarious as his wife; she seems to revel in Gay’s wickedly naughty script.
I loved watching the frantic catfights between Lucy (Beverly Rudd) and Polly (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) who certainly got the most laughs on the night. With a buoyant attitude and a belter of a voice, Rudd conquers the expansive Regent’s Park stage. Spencer-Longhurst, bright faced and wide eyed as the innocent but crafty little Polly, acts with great assurance and in addition has a bright soprano voice that soars in this theatre.
This is a charming production, Regent’s Park is the loveliest of settings, and The Beggar’s Opera is a witty, sometimes neglected work, the perfect summer’s evening out.
The Beggar’s Opera until 23 July 2011. Book tickets