Opera Warwick’s production of The Beggar’s Opera is absolutely unmissable for any Jazz fan. Whilst the actors are enjoyable to watch, and the combination of dialogue and music flows well, the main draw for the show cannot be anything other than the incredible seven-piece jazz band and stand-out vocalists.
The first act was characterised by Niamh Murphy’s performance. From the moment the show started she drew the eye, not as a scene-stealer, but as an entertainer. Hilarious from the offset, it is clear that she belongs on a stage; never breaking character. Her background improvisation was often as equally entertaining as the main focus of the scene.
The improvisation of background characters during conversations helped the audience move past the sometimes hard-to-follow storyline. The varied style of costume – from cocktail dresses and suits, to skinny jeans and jumpers – was neither in line with the original 18th-century opera, nor an explicitly modern interpretation. This somewhat confusing ambiguity did not distract from the entertaining performances of the actors, vocalists, or the band, but both the plot and the overall concept would have benefitted from some clarity. The lady sat in front of me resorted to using the light from her phone to read the program’s synopsis in the dark.
It is worth buying a ticket for their duet alone
When Murphy was later introduced as Mrs Peachum, I hoped beyond hope that her voice would match her acting, and I was not disappointed. Striking, clear, and resonating throughout the Arts Centre studio, it is worth buying a ticket for her duet with Abi Taylor (Polly Peachum) alone.
In the second act, Ethan Sarphie filled a similar role, often in the background or a group. His physical characterisation of Lockit was faultless. Every time he walked on stage I knew I was going to be entertained. Disturbingly creepy, and unquestionably a sadist, his voice sent shivers down my spine. I had no trouble believing he abused his prisoners or his daughter, but I was reassured during my interview with Director Tara Noonan and Actress Rebekah Nally that this is simply a credit to his acting ability!
The music could be described as nothing less than shockingly beautiful
The group dance numbers, choreographed by Em Lawrence, were refreshing in contrast with the more traditionally operatic, stationary duets and solos. With lights and upbeat live Jazz, the odd addition of choreography to an opera was necessary in this case, tying the cast together and keeping a semblance of focus. There were a few unnecessary moments, such as a distracting, if amusing, handshake Macheath’s gang seemed to do every time they took a breath, but, generally, the moments of improvisation add character to the set movements.
Overall the music could be described as nothing less than shockingly beautiful; I found myself dancing along to all of the songs! It is an unmissable production, and truly perfect for people who are intimidated by traditional operas. The phenomenal performances of the leading actors and the chorus, coupled with the excellence of the jazz band, are evidence of hours and hours of hard work and dedication. If you need something to distract from revision, this is definitely my recommendation.
The Beggar’s Opera is on at the Arts Centre until June 8. Tickets are available here.