THE STORY: John Gay’s great comic masterpiece is generally agreed to be the first ever musical. Written in 1728, THE BEGGAR’S OPERA is a savagely funny satire on marriage, money and morals—as relevant and biting today as it was when first written. In this new version by John Caird and Ilona Sekacz, the old story is given new life as all our favorite characters return, in a play within a play, where beggars and thieves create a world of love, lust, violence, deceit, greed and a little more love. Ilona Sekacz’s score uses all the old tunes, but brings them up to date in a superb synthesis of eighteenth and twentieth-century musical styles. John Caird’s stage directions make the old text sizzle with life, giving a clear context for Gay’s ruthless characters and driving the convoluted plot at a helter-skelter pace. Peachum, a purveyor of stolen goods, and his rapacious wife, are horrified to find that their only child, Polly, has fallen in love with, and worse still married, Captain Macheath, the famous highwayman. Peachum cannot bear the thought that Macheath should get control of Polly’s money and become the heir to his own fortune, so he plots to have Macheath captured and hanged. Act One ends with Macheath emerging from his hiding place (in Polly’s bed) and the lovers swearing eternal fidelity to each other as Macheath flies to safety. Macheath is arrested and imprisoned by the corrupt jailer, Lockit, whose daughter Lucy turns out to be another of Macheath’s lovers, now heavily pregnant with his child. Polly’s prison visit to her husband causes an embarrassing and ludicrous collision between the two women who fight viciously for Macheath’s affection. Polly is dragged away by her father and Lucy helps Macheath escape. Act Two closes with both women grieving for their departed man. Act Three sees Macheath re-arrested and as the story enters into ever more dark and political territory, Gay uses Macheath’s plight to talk about injustice and poverty wherever and whenever it occurs. After a heartbreaking trio as Macheath and his two wives—and then a few more—bid farewell, Macheath is hanged. There follows a stunning and hilarious coup de theatre, as the public objects to the tragic turn of events. Macheath’s hanging is “reversed,” and the company of beggars improvise a joyful and shambolic happy ending.
“…with Ilona Sekacz’s complete musical overhaul, [Caird] raises the dramatic fever of the score to match Gay’s wonderfully savage and scabrous script.” —Observer (London). “Fresh as milk, horny as hell, a dream, a nightmare, a cross-section of an ant hill, John Gay’s BEGGAR’S OPERA is like life. It is beautiful, it is there, and it goes on. And, in John Caird’s sensationally seductive production you never want it to end…Here’s variety before the word was invented.” —Midweek Magazine. “THE BEGGAR’S OPERA…is obviously full of zest and fascination…There is so much life and vigour in the whole thing…It was absolutely spell-binding…” —Oxford Magazine.