On the press night of The Buskers Opera – which coincided with the London Mayoral elections – Jeremy Corbyn was out campaigning on the street that the Park Theatre is located on, and even made an appearance in the theatre itself just before curtain up.
If he’d stayed on to watch the show, he would have seen a Boris Johnson-like figure on stage in the luxuriantly haired Simon Kane, the incumbent mayor of the city, whose daughter Lucy Lockitt has been impregnated by local bad boy Macheath. He, in turn, is two-timing her with Polly Peachum, whose father is a corrupt media operator.
Inspired by John Gay’s The Beggars Opera, Dougal Irvine’s new musical steals a march on the National who are about to stage the Brecht/Weill re-write of the same story The Threepenny Opera. Here it has been transplanted to a 2012 London set against the backdrop of the Olympics in which Macheath is a fomenter of dissent – and casual killer of assorted homeless people – in a somewhat muddled protest movement.
The object of his scattergun wrath is wealth, until he himself finds himself improbably its beneficiary. What will be the moral thing to do? As portrayed by the electrifying George Maguire (an Olivier winner for Sunny Afternoon), he comes across a bit like a seedy Russell Brand, all cocky charisma, edgily belting out Irvine’s original guitar-based rock riffs and protest songs.
This is the best and most original British musical score since Bend it Like Beckham. His rallying cry Change ends the show on a high note.
There is, however, some padding along the way. But Lotte Wakeham’s production delivers the material with verve throughout, playing out on a functional set made up of scaffolding poles. Lauren Samuels and Natasha Cottriall play Macheath’s competing love interests with appealing fervour.