Beggar’s Opera (York Theatre Royal, 23rd March 2011)

When going to a Belt Up production I wouldn’t expect something in a specific genre or tradition. For example, when buying tickets for their Beggar’s Opera, I didn’t expect a twee musical set firmly in the eighteenth century with lovely eighteenth century costumes and sets. As some members of the audience near me considered whether to leave at the interval and I heard someone declare that they had never seen anything like this before in their lives, I think that when buying tickets some members of the audience on the evening that I went may have not experienced the Belt Up approach to texts in the past.

I wasn’t disappointed by Belt Up’s Beggar’s Opera nor surprised at their approach, but I was entertained by what they did with it. It was fun, experimental, eclectic and full of surprises. The production layered timeframes, so we had a play set in Thatcher’s Britain with references back to the original eighteenth-century setting, and a commentary on today’s society. Margaret Thatcher became a madam in suspenders who privatises the brothel because funds have been withdrawn by Peacham.  Other characters commented on contemporary roles. Lockit becomes the prison’s minister for example.  Actors moved easily between character roles, but at the same time were able to draw attention to this. What Belt Up does well is draw attention to their work being a piece of theatre and break down some of the barriers that theatre presents such as using the auditorium space to great effect.  They had some nice moments using the audience, which I won’t discuss in case they put this production on at another venue. Throughout the production there was an ironic comment on being a musical and there was an in joke built up through the production as characters burst into song at key moments in the narrative.

Belt Up is a young company and this is one of their real strengths. They bring a breath of fresh air to theatre as well as bringing in a new audience, which can only be a good thing.  There’s still lots of traditional musical theatre for those who those who want that as well.

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