The Convict’s Opera

Adapted from John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera by Stephen Jeffreys. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark. Sydney Theatre Company

Saw this in previews a couple of weeks ago but forgot to review it. The conceit is that a group of convicts bound for Botany Bay are staging The Beggar’s Opera to pass the time on the voyage: this is a great concept which the adaptation generally carries off well. The to-and-fro between rehearsals on ship and the plot of the original are a bit creaky sometimes but in general it stops the show getting too bogged down and some of the transitions are sublimely funny.

The musical numbers are about half-and-half modern pop standards and what I suppose are songs from the original show. The cast are about half and half Australian and UK, and about the same mixture of opera and theatre performers, I think, and all the singing (and live music performed on stage by the cast) was terrific.

Overall it was much more fun than a 17th century musical, even one as roguish as The Beggar’s Opera, has any right to be.

The staging was great, except that I’m sure I saw a FILING CABINET. ON A SHIP. A SAILING SHIP IN 18-OH-WHATEVER.

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