ANOTHER BEGGAR’S OPERA
Aro St Church, 225 Aro St, Wellington
17/08/2012 - 22/08/2012
LONG CLOUD GOES GRASS-ROOTS WITH MUSICAL
“Steal a little and they throw you in jail… steal a lot and they make you king.”
In the grimy depths of the lowest common denominators, a beggar has written an opera. Over a hot fire, he shares this story with his out-of-pocket contemporaries.
ANOTHER BEGGAR’S OPERA hurtles us into the world of whores, beggars, big business and Jazz: a place where people keep their collars up lest they see something they shouldn’t … darkness, debauchery, a world populated by thieves, poets and the stink of the streets.
Long Cloud continues its tradition of performing classical texts while building on its recent forays into devised works. This newest collaboration of ANOTHER BEGGAR’S OPERA marks a new era in the development of Long Cloud with one of its past members returning to direct. Stella Reid (a former Long Cloud member) has worked with the company to adapt a fresh & thrilling version of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. This rough and raw musical featuring well known characters and songs such as ‘Mack the knife’ is a funny and unique take on this classic tale.
Director Stella Reid: “Long Cloud is an ever growing & changing group of young people, of which I was lucky enough to be a part. With ANOTHER BEGGAR’S OPERA I hope to sustain and push new and edgy work. I believe nothing is ever too “professional”, too “intelligent”, too “classic” or too “difficult” for young people to create. It is with Long Cloud, I believe, that the landscape of artistic endeavour in Wellington, and indeed New Zealand, can now be changed.”
ANOTHER BEGGAR’S OPERA is a satirical look at the role of business, poverty and injustice. This is a story of corruption at all levels of society. Combine this with loud music, loud characters and snappy ballads and you have the chaotic world of the beggars; welcome to this world, and this world is ours, play it again Sam!
The Aro St Church, 225 Aro St, Aro Valley, Wellington
17th August – 22nd August.
Friday, Sat, Sun, Mon, Tues, Wed @ 7.30pm.
TICKETS ARE LIMITED TO 35 PER NIGHT
$18/$14 | BOOKINGS PHONE 04 238 6225 or ONLINE www.thetheatre.co.nz
TEXT: Stella Reid & Long Cloud Youth Theatre
CAST: Frankie Berge, Hamish Davies, George Fenn, Angela Fouhy, Laura Gaudin, Tom Kereama, Merlin Connell-Nawalowalo, Livvy Nonoa, Hanna Olsen, Hen Priestley, Connor Rapley, Hannah Wilson
DESIGN: Annie Hubbard & Charlie Mandley
SONG: Ailsa Krefft
MUSIC: Stephanie Cairns & Theo Taylor
Operated by: Lily della Porta, Olivia Mahood & Freya Sadgrove
Strong sense of ensemble commitment carries the evening
Review by John Smythe 18th Aug 2012
John Gay’s satirical ballad opera, The Beggar’s Opera, penned in part to send up London’s love affair with Italian opera, premiered in 1728 and has been produced ever since in various permutations. The best known of the many adaptations – Wikipedia lists 16 up to 2011 – is Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera (1928).
So this version by Stella Reid with Long Cloud Youth Theatre, dubbed Another Beggar’s Opera, follows a centuries-old tradition. Presented in Aro Valley’s deconsecrated church, it is set in the Wellington CBD. Not that there is any attempt to create that as the make-believe starting point. Initially the end-on acting space is inhabited by the youth theatre cast in fairly tatty clothes just being themselves as the audience takes their seats.
A cast member asks the audience for a joke (which will later be used in the show) then they launch into their opening number: “This operetta nursery rhyme you won’t find in a book / It’s written on your silly face, just stop and take a look.”
The beggar’s shopping trolley overflows with the jetsam of civilisation: car tyres, hubcaps and air conditioner ducting. When his offer to share his chips with a fellow street person draws others in from the shadows, he pisses them off by offering to share his story instead.
So a youthful group of performers play Wellington street people who in turn play out the story being told by one of their number. And there is no attempt to cast us in the role of other street people gathered, for example, in an urban park or mall. We are who we are, witnessing the presentation from our position of privilege.
We are not spoon-fed the story, so it helps to be familiar with it. Reid and her team are more concerned with the ‘how’ of performance than ‘what’ and ‘why’ of story-telling. They pick elements of it to play with, over the hour, rather than address the more complex intrigues of the original narrative. So we get to observe and appreciate performance more than wrestle with the real moral issues of survival in a corrupt society and system.
We are teased with whether or not they will deliver the iconic Weill song, ‘Mack the Knife’ – and they do, with flair. It emerges that Jonah Jeremiah Peachum, “the definition of evil”, owns the streets and buildings and leases the footpaths to buskers. Thus he represents both the private and public sectors.
Macheath has cult hero status in the underclass despite being a polygamous user and abuser of women. The price Mrs Peachum puts on his head, because her daughter Polly thinks she is engaged to him, is too tempting for the likes of Jenny Diver … And so it plays out right up to the noose, which is the only time the man himself appears. But our apparent desire for a happy ending sees his demise averted.
En route some good quips hit home, the show comments on itself and other versions of it, and some witty staging – e.g. the walk through the streets – adds to the entertainment value. Despite asserting in her programme note “it’s a play about cacophony”, Reid is not afraid of silence, uses the long pause to good theatrical effect a number of times.
Weill’s ‘What Keeps Mankind Alive?’ (popularised by Tom Waits) is given a strong rendition but it’s ‘Mack The Knife’ (popularised by Bobby Darin, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra) which ends the show, presumably to indulge our love of a well-known tune that romanticises a renegade while diverting us from meaningful social commentary – which, as with the happy ending imperative, may be intended as a comment in itself.
There is little effort put into characterisation, as such. At times poor diction and projection subtract from the production’s potential. But a strong sense of ensemble commitment carries the evening for its highly supportive opening night audience.
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