Image: Helen Wood / Opera Warwick

A pub night like no other: a preview of ‘The Beggar’s Opera’

If you’re looking for a pub night to break up the monotony of revision, Opera Warwick’s The Beggar’s Opera is the perfect choice. A fully-choreographed, jazz opera, set in a pub with disco lighting and a scat solo; director Tara Noonan’s refreshing take on a centuries-old classic seems to be shaping up to be an unmissable show.

We try to make it feel like you’re spending a night in a pub, and things just happen to be going on around you

Tara Noonan

If opera isn’t usually your cup of tea, don’t worry, this one is pulling pints. A pub atmosphere is encouraged, with a cast member playing a bartender, and “[fake] alcohol being consumed by all parties at all times”. The audience is encouraged to purchase their own refreshments, alcoholic or otherwise, with the intention of an immersive “communal experience”. So buy a pint and settle in for two hours of an opera like no other.

As her first venture directing an opera, Tara undertook the mission of updating the script. Now written for a modern audience “who don’t require spoonfeeding”, the misogynistic language is limited to moments of “emotional intensity”, instead of punctuating the dialogue – as it does in the original. Already inspired by jazz, and with the whole opera set in a pub, she didn’t feel limited by the language of the script. “We’ve made it our own, the story is the same but the way it is delivered is unlike anything else”.

Its so much fun to watch, with the social commentary turning up in the end, you are instead swept up in this love story with conflict, gang warfare and prisoners, it’s very exciting

Tara Noonan

With a cast of 20 and a 7 piece jazz band, it is clear that this is an immense production. Tara’s face lights up when I ask about the music: “The band have done a fantastic job – the music is phenomenal”. Theo Caplan rewrote and updated the score, composing jazz that somehow maintains operatic melodies, he must like a challenge. I have no idea how this will be realised in performance, but I am certainly looking forward to it.

Entertaining, fun, classic, yet so brand new… perfect for people who have never seen Opera before

Tara Noonan

The cast seems up to the challenge of delivering a jazz opera. Rebekah Lally, one of the lead actors, seems to have jumped at the chance to challenge herself vocally, with one of her favourite parts of the process being “the opportunity to explore jazz in an operatic setting”. As a performer who’s character spends less time on the stage, she had an opportunity to observe parts of the show, and she seems confident in audience satisfaction.  “It’s such tremendous fun to watch… it’s utterly raucous… the cast is obscenely talented, I would stop revising and come and see this performance purely for the joy you will receive in return.”

As the conversation turned to performances, we came back to the complexities of MacHeath time and time again. This character seems to be an essential aspect of the modern relatability of an 18th-century opera. As Rebekah enthusiastically explained, “MacHeath is every f*ckboy you’ve ever met”, and with that Dominic Sterland was put forward as one of the actors to watch out for. Both Tara and Rebekah tried to convey how he creates a love-hate relationship with the audience: “You’re going to want to hate [MacHeath], he’s so horrible, if you stop and think about what he’s doing for two seconds”.

It’s Medieval swashbuckling, its love triangles, all that good stuff

Tara Noonan

As a collaborative process “so many people have brought their own interpretations to the characters”, and this seems to be at the heart of the whole show. With disco lighting being proposed by the lighting crew in the final few days, the mutual excitement between Tara and Theo to take on a jazz opera, and the Beggar and the Player improvising the majority of their parts, I cannot think of a single aspect of this show that wasn’t a communal effort. I can only hope this comes across as strongly in performance as it did in conversation.

“If you’re expecting to see the traditional Beggar’s Opera, you’re in for a surprise.”

The Beggar’s Opera is at Warwick arts centre from June 6-8. Tickets are available here.

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