I have an awkward confession to make: I’m not really a musical person. There, I’ve said it. I don’t know how it happened or when. I’ve always been impressed with the three-pronged talents of musical theatre performers. I went from knowing all the words to Grease by the age of six to a slight bafflement. Taking a stab in the dark, I’d say it probably has something to do with dancing (not just that I can’t). It has seemed to me that just when I’m getting into the story of the thing, a dance routine bursts in and breaks it. So, for a musical to break through that without me even noticing how much I’m enjoying myself, is pretty special. The Busker’s Opera is one of those musicals.
After the opening scene, that is – a scene that involves an uncomfortable amount of direct address to get the ball rolling, but without really rolling the ball. From that point on The Busker’s Opera morphs into everything positive about new writing. It is fresh, relevant and supremely entertaining. What’s more, apart from the odd sway, it is largely dance routine free. The songs are dynamic, driven and witty. It takes on the principles of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and proving that its subjects are as relevant nearly 300 years later, throwing a spotlight on political and media power in feeding ignorance. The gaping hole between rich and poor is made brutally apparent.
Within this, the characters are caricatures of the popular culture we currently love to hate. Simon Kane’s Mayor Lockitt is Boris incarnate, all bicycle clips and floppy hair. Natasha Cottriall’s Lucy Lockitt is as vacuous and entertaining as the Made in Chelsea generation and her songs are well and truly on point, brimming with attitude and skill. As for the Busker himself – Macheath, played by George Maguire – he is lacertilian, lunging and charismatic like one Mr Russell Brand. It is quite plain to see why Maguire has an Olivier hanging out on his mantlepiece. It is worth going to The Busker’s Opera to see him alone.
The real value of The Busker’s Opera is in its potential. The score is fantastic, the ideas are fantastic and the cast is fantastic. It moves a little too quickly to be as hard-hitting as it intends to be. It feels both a little rushed and a little sparse, but there is the overwhelming feeling of what it could be with a little more money and a little more plot time.
The Busker’s Opera is playing until 4 June. For more information and tickets, see the Park Theatre website. Photo: Simon Annand