Securing a ticket for The Busker’s Opera was no easy feat. I was very excited to find a deal for a show put on at the Park Theatre because I’d never visited the venue before (and because the seven minute tube journey was such a satisfying prospect). My feelings concerning my ticket purchasing journey are mixed: the discount code I had been emailed would not work (*bad feelings*), but the ‘on-hold’ music when I phoned the box office was ‘As Long As You’re Mine’ from Wicked (*great feelings*). Unfortunately, over half an hour of waiting, (and Idina somehow never getting past the first chorus), I grew impatient – all the while lamenting that the love Elphaba and Fiyero share cannot guarantee their security any longer than ‘just for this moment’ (*rubbish feelings*). Nevertheless, being a blissful seven minute train ride away from Park Theatre (*optimistic feelings*), it was not long before I was standing, in the flesh, in front of the ‘oh-so-busy’ box office, which looked as though no member of staff ever had or would sit behind that desk (*’you-call-yourself-a-theatre!?’ feelings*). Thankfully, the trendy Park Theatre employs numerous members of bar staff (who don’t consider it within their duty to answer phones, it seems) who were able – after many other setbacks and complications – to offer me a ticket (*relieved feelings*).
It must be said, what my visit lacked in…. well, general convenience and efficiency, it made up for tenfold in outstandingly brilliant theatre. The Busker’s Opera is the best Musical I have seen in a very long time. This show is only running for two more weeks, so grab your ticket (actually, experience tells me the process might not be so speedy as a ‘grab’…) before you miss your chance!
Date of viewing: 17/05/2016
Production: The Busker’s Opera
Seat: Stalls, B6
How cheap!?: £10 (using discount code ‘BUSKERSSTU10!’ …. sort of)
The Busker’s Opera is a fast-paced, modern musical which adapts themes drawn from John Gay’s 18th Century The Beggar’s Opera and Brecht and Weill’s 20th Century Threepenny Opera. Set in London during the city’s impressive 2012 Olympic Games, this adaption follows the politicism of its aforementioned ancestors and manifests its discussion by portraying a plethora of politically charged topics; capitalism, art, suicide, homelessness, trafficking, infidelity, love, taxes etc. The food-for-thought aspect was thoroughly overwhelming, and deeply powerful. The show’s protagonist (or, is it antagonist?) is the hipster busker Mackheath, who spends the entire plot fighting tirelessly against ‘the system’; he fights against the corruption of the rich but exploits the vulnerability of the poor, and, throughout, demonstrates that the battle between good and evil is the agonising reality of the condition of the human heart. It appears to me to be particularly rare that a modern Musical (as opposed to a straight play) should have such poignancy and impact regarding political matters, and ask of its audience such an urgent conversion of values. Bravo.
“the best musical I have seen in a very long time”
The present home to The Busker’s Opera – room Park200 in Park Theatre – is an intimate performance space which holds, perhaps, 300 at full capacity. Although in some instances such a small venue can seem amateurish, this cosy venue was absolutely perfect for this script which is written for only 9 actors. Staging for this show is rustic and unpolished, giving it a London-street vibe – the only significant form of staging is a rickety looking scaffold, under which a band of two (plus the occasional addition of cast members) are hidden away. The intimacy of the space exposes its inhabitants with rawness and intensity; it is a very good thing the cast is so staggeringly excellent.
A real mix of experienced and fresh actors grace the stage of Park200, and whilst it is true that the less experienced of the bunch were evidently so, the cast gels fantastically and believably – which is particularly essential when a company is so small. The oldest members of the cast, Simon Kane (who plays the Mayor of London) and David Burt (who plays Jeremiah Peachum – the owner of a successful newspaper) secure the performance with a level of experience. Kane plays the part of London’s Mayor very humorously and sings with a rich, and velvety-thick operatic tone, whilst Burt’s voice is sinisterly grave and gruff. Their presence onstage is contrasted well with the purposefully youthful remainder of the cast, who represent the aspiring ideals of young, passionate Londoners. Members of the Swing must be applauded for their masterful versatility. The Busker’s Opera demands of its performers a high-paced turnaround of new characters, and the cast convincingly persuades the audience with ever-changing accents, mannerisms and dress-codes.
George Maguire plays the shows leading man, Macheath. Maguire plays the loveable bad-boy with fitting swagger and confidence, yet invites the audience powerfully to share in the torment of his vulnerability during moments of solitude on the stage. He has the charm of a true busker and an intimate vocal tone which is refreshing in a Musical Theatre context. Despite the success of his portrayal, Maguire’s performance undoubtedly submits to those of the powerful leading ladies, Lauren Samuels (who plays Mackheath’s wife, Polly) and Natasha Cottriall (who plays Lucky, the Mayor’s spoilt-rich daughter).
“the cast is so staggeringly excellent”
Lauren Samuels featured once before in this blog for her performance of Jules in Bend It Like Beckham. Faithful readers will recall that Samuels’ role offered no real opportunity to showcase her wonderfully technical voice – I am delighted to say that Polly is the perfect role for this young star. Samuels’ character is optimistic, hopeful and deeply spiritual, and every ounce of Samuels’ body oozes proof of these sentiments. Her voice is controlled, but powerful, and extremely beautiful. Polly is another vulnerable character, but Samuels is able to simultaneously exude strength. Natasha Cotriall, who plays Lucky, demonstrates a completely contrary set of performance skills. Her portrayal of a spoilt, rich young adult is very funny and she creatively mimics all the aspects of ourselves we young 21st century people hate. Lucky’s street-cred is unbeatable and Cotriall plays her with sass and authority. She cleverly manages to feign sentimentality when she sings of her decision to continue with her unwanted pregnancy, fooling us into believing she could outgrow her youthful immaturity. Cotriall is no vocal powerhouse, but she certainly has soul and this bodes exceptionally well for her.
It is a devastating insult that The Stage review should commend this show for having the most original British musical score since Bend it Like Beckham because, quite frankly, the music to The Busker’s Opera could eat Bend it Like Beckham for breakfast. Every song is musically interesting with genius lyrics. The whole show is performed in rhyming verse, and Dougal Irvine – the Musical’s bookwriter, lyricist and composer – has done extremely well to synthesise text and song so seamlessly.
That which makes The Busker’s Opera so successful is its accessibility. It is a Musical so stylish and original that it is gold dust to Musical Theatre fanatics, and a revelation to those who dislike Musical plays. Undeniably its thematic content overloads and overwhelms its viewers, but on topics of which everybody – theatre fan, or not – offers an opinion.
Do not go and see The Busker’s Opera if you are not prepared for theatre to challenge you. This show’s ability to breathe life into your perspective of the world around you is incomprehensible, and impressive. Even if you need to busk on the street corner for hours in order to produce the funds for a ticket, I urge you to do so. You won’t regret it.