Distinctive amateur drama
in Northampton since 1932

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The Beggar's Opera
by John Gay

Tue 14 - Sat 18 May 2013 at 7.30pm
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Sheep Street, Northampton Map >

Production No. 397

More images from The Beggar's Opera

Patricia Coleman, director

Encouraged by the great satirist of the day, Jonathan Swift, John Gay was encouraged to write an opera which was both a satire on fashionable London’s obsession with Italian opera, and an attack on Sir Robert Walpole’s corrupt administration.

The Beggar’s Opera opened on 29th January 1728 and ran for 62 consecutive performances – the longest run in theatre up to that time.  Instead of grand music and themes (often mythological) it uses familiar tunes of the day and the everyday characters of the criminal underworld.  Thieves and whores mirror a society of corruption, violence and social injustice.

In 1728 London was the biggest city in Europe.  The rising middle classes were making fortunes and the numbers of urban poor were increasing.  Crime increased – and then punishment.  The poor despaired, or were nihilistic, and gin became the drug of the day.  Many died at a young age, either from poverty, murder or punishment and The Beggar’s Opera is littered with references and images of hanging.

“Definition ‘satire’ – where human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision or wit” (the – in other words, The Beggar’s Opera is funny as well!

The play will be performed in authentic costume, in its original 18th Century period, and in the atmospheric setting of the Crusader Round of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Sheep Street, Northampton. Music will be simply provided by harpsichord and baroque electric bass guitar.

Following highly enjoyable auditions on 16 December, rehearsals have now begun. The cast of 31 includes the well known faces of John Myhill, Fraser Haines, Sarah Stringer, Rachel Smith, Mathew Fell, Pat Bancroft and Richard Walker. It also marks the acting debut of Peter Borley-Cox.

The director, Patricia Coleman, has been an actor and director with Masque Theatre for over 30 years.  Previous productions have included Waiting for Godot, The Merchant of Venice and King Lear and she is very excited to be directing such a talented cast in The Beggar’s Opera.

The musical director is Ian Spiby.


Cast & Crew

Mr Peachum Fraser Haines
Mrs Peachum
Pat Bancroft
Polly Peachum Rachel Bedford
Filch Peter Borley-Cox
Lockit Richard Walker
Lucy Lockit Sarah Stringer
The Beggar / Mrs Trapes John Myhill
Captain Macheath Matthew Fell
Matt of the Mint Kevin French
Jemmy Twitcher Ste Applegate
Nimming Ned Peter Robinson
Crook-Fingered Jack / Turnkey David Chappell
Robin of Bagshot / Constable Peter Collins
Wat Dreary / Constable Mark Bentley
Ben Budge Edward Toone
Harry Paddington Lewis Marks
Jenny Diver Precious Dunlop
Mrs Coaxer Doreen Wright
Mrs Vixen Sally Whitestone
Dolly Trull Yoshe Watson
Rosie Trollop Celyn Grosvenor
Betty Doxy Verity Johnson
Mrs Slammekin Carly Tremayne
Suky Tawdry Claire Tong
Molly Brazen Tamsyn Payne
Landlord Tony Janney
Mrs Pleaser Margaret Buckley
Tavern Habitue Roger Buckley
Tavern Slut Katie Bunting

Musical director Ian Spiby
Baroque Bass Guitar Conway Painting
Percussion Joshn Judd

Patricia Coleman
Stage Manager Denise Swann
Assistant Stage Manager Bernadette Wood
Lighting Tony White
Gallows Builder Derek Banyard
Dresses for Miss Peachum and Miss Lockit Amy Stewart
Additional costumes Pam Mann, Emma Heath, Claire Tong
Hair & make-up Sidonie McDowell, Emma Banks
Mistress of the wardrobe Claire Brittain
Programme & poster design Tamsyn Payne

A scene from The Beggar's Opera

The highwaymen. Photo by Joe Brown

Tom Morath, Masque Theatre member

Walking into the Holy Sepulchre Church for The Beggar’s Opera, I was unsure of what to expect. I was apprehensive as to whether I would enjoy an opera having never been to one.

My fears were unfounded, of course, as The Beggar’s Opera, directed by Patricia Coleman, proved to be a wonderful display of musical drama.

A story about a criminal underworld, headed up by Matthew Fell’s flirtatious performance as Captain Macheath, morals were nowhere to be seen.

Aspects of the performance, especially in language, really developed the feel of the harsh world in which Macheath was, apparently, King. Though a church may not be the obvious choice of space for the subject matter, the setting worked.

I am conscious that writing positively about my fellow Masque members may bring me under some scrutiny but, rather like Macheath, I must plead my innocence. I can quite honestly say that the show was a success and thoroughly enjoyable.

It might be better described as an experience because the performance extended beyond the Crusader Round by having costumed ‘wenches’ serving refreshments during the interval; the feel of the evening was never broken.

Mr and Mrs Peachum (brought to life wonderfully by Fraser Haines and Pat Bancroft) were the perfect show of the larger-than-life characters that make the show. Their relationship of love/hate gave a humorous introduction to the type of corrupt dealings we would see throughout.

Aside the name of the show, ‘Opera’ was used as a loose term and it was clear that some had more operatic singing experience than others. Rachel Bedford (Polly Peachum) clearly had more operatic experience and her voice truly added power to the songs. Whilst this singing is to be commended, I found myself very much looking forward to the chorus scenes where the fun of the setting in a brothel was found. The ability of the performers to hold their characterisation during these rowdy scenes is to be commended, even if not all were not highly trained signers, it didn't appear to matter. Each member of these scenes held my attention fully.  

I must, however, give a special mention to Verity Johnson for her delightful performance as Betty Doxy and who succeeded in keeping me (and every audience member around me) laughing every time she appeared on stage. I’m sure the gentleman sitting to my right thought I might explode at any moment.

Audience participation at the very end of the performance was used to decide the fate of Macheath, whether he should live despite his arrogant disregard of rules, or die by the gallows. The choice was ours, an excellent opportunity to see the kindness of the strangers around you, or, as the case may be, how bloodthirsty for a hanging they all are!



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