The Buskers Opera is a clever idea with some sterling performances but doesn’t quite reach the potential that is has.000000BO3

The future’s ripe for those who mix their artistry with politics…

The Buskers Opera, yet another adaptation of John Gay’s 1728 The Beggar’s Opera, is a duality in many senses. It’s two hours of rhyming couplets, but more tellingly it oscillates between the extremes of being very good and very ordinary. This adaptation is written and composed by Dougal Irvine and is now playing at The Park Theatre.

There are good ideas here but they get lost in complexity and sometimes the script tries to be too clever with the result that it sometimes disappears up its own orifice, like the oeroboros dragon eating its own tail. Sometimes, well usually actually, less is more.

In terms of the score, the highs are found in solos and small groups. The ensemble numbers are marred by patchy harmony singing that isn’t helped by either the choreography or sound mixing. This results in the melody being either indistinct or totally lost.

000000BO5On the other hand, there were musical highlights: Natasha Cottriall as Lucy singing Do you want a baby, Baby? – very clever lyrically and musically and sung beautifully with total meaning; a quartet in Act Two, Phone Calls also has clever lyrics and stands out because of good staging,  involving two sets of  father and daughter pairings. Sadder than Me was also good, showing off Cottriall’s singing talents again as well as those of Lauren Samuels (Polly Peachum).

The instrumental backing for the show is provided primarily by the musical director Sean Green on keyboards and Mary Spender on acoustic guitar. Occasional extra instruments added by the cast include some lovely cello moments provided by Giovanna Ryan from the ensemble. It’s a commendable idea to use the softer tones of acoustic instruments but the absence of a drum kit left the more driving numbers without a rhythmic underpinning.

Part of the cause of the ensemble numbers being less than thrilling is due to the choreographic style chosen. It looks dated and too fussy to fit with the music or within the space.

Buskers OperaGeorge Maguire is Macheath, the singer with a cause and the charisma of a gutter rat. His singing is sensational although the songs are unmemorable. He almost convinces that he can pull any woman with the strength of his voice and the life in his eyes. Unfortunately for Maguire, his character rapidly loses empathy in the second act and, in the end, it’s hard to forgive Maguire for being the only man left standing.

The overall aesthetic of the production is reminiscent of a 1970’s production of Godspell. The performance space itself and the use of the levels is very effective. The costumes match the choreography in style and are really quite witty in tone, albeit the reasoning behind the choices is a mystery. Given that the show is set in 2012, the 70’s aesthetic is baffling. Then again, having chosen to set this adaptation in 2012, it’s already been tied to a defunct event, one without without the benefit of being historically significant.

000000BO6Whilst some of the problems are down to writing, other deficits need to be owned by the production team.  Tighter direction, better choreography and revised instrumentation would go some way to redressing  the balance of this uneven show.

The Buskers Opera is a clever idea with some sterling performances but doesn’t quite reach the potential that is has.

The Buskers Opera
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Viola Patrick
Viola has been obsessed with all things theatre since she was young and first encountered the Les Miserables soundtrack. Totally hooked, Viola later studied Theatre at Reading University, where she was able to perform on stage, as well as writing and directing her own material. She has written theatre reviews for newspapers and magazines and is looking forward to joining the exciting world of and online reviewing.