The Beggar’s Opera

Written by John Gay in 1728, The Beggar’s Opera is widely considered to be the first musical comedy, and one that pre-empted by about 300 years the current vogue for « jukebox » productions, which create a plot to fit around hit songs. Gay took some of the best-known tunes of his day, both classical and popular, and worked them into a savagely satirical tale set amongst London’s thieves, pimps and prostitutes.

Wildly popular from its first performance in 1728, it has been the basis for numerous stage, musical and cinematic adaptations ever since. It explores a cynical world where capitalist greed, crime and social inequality are the norm. All politicians and officials are, by definition, corrupt, and there is nothing to do but join in if you want to get ahead.

Sounds familiar? Indeed nothing much has changed since the work had its premiere, and the themes of The Beggar’s Opera are those which continue to obsess modern television and cinema. In this production we hope to try and match the transgressive mood and restless energy of the original. As Gay with razor sharp observation has one of his characters say at the beginning of Act III: Lions, wolves and vultures don’t live together in herds, droves or flocks. Of all animals of prey, man is the only sociable one. Every one of us preys upon his neighbor, and yet we herd together.

Robert Carsen

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