In York University’s production of The Beggar’s Opera, Director Gwen Dobie revisits the idea of a play within a play made famous by Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The play is set in modern day Toronto as a broadcast of the Pamela Parker (Astrid Atherly) show, a fictional news reporter/talk show host reporting live from the Lincoln Fields Correctional Facility. The prisoners are acting out John Gay’s classic piece as a method of rehabilitation.
Throughout the prisoners’ performance, there were multiple breaks, from a break for a quick news update by Pamela, to a break when a few of the prisoners break out into a modern day song with step dance, to a break because the prisoners get into a full on fight with one another. These breaks bring the portion that is “The Beggar’s Opera”, which I suspect couldn’t be more than 90 minutes on its own, to a nearly three hour production. I found these breaks between the production very distracting. While I know they were necessary to maintain the idea of a prison setting, I felt like it added unnecessary time to the production. The only time it worked impeccably was to bring the audience to the intermission; Dobie brilliantly used part of Gay’s original script, which showcased the release of Macheath (Emilio Vieira) from prison. This worked to depict the prison characters, along with other inmates, attempting their escape from Lincoln Fields. With that, the Prison Warden (Andrei Borissenko) settles down the audience, and inmates, as well as spectators, are all given the 15-minute intermission.
The set and costumes of the production were minimal; Set Designer Erin Steele and Costume Designer Celine Moniz creatively used items that would be found in the average prison to simulate a set and period piece costumes. The set design was intentionally sparse; from my seat you could see the backstage, which added to the cold feeling of being in a prison.
One recurring issue I found with most of the actors was the inability to project their voices, both when they were speaking and when they were singing. A round of applause is in order for the Prison Warden, Polly Peachum (Alison Campbell), Lucy Lockit (Kaili Kinnon), and Pamela Parker, whose performances were sensational, and most importantly, well projected.
Gwen Dobie’s adaptation of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera simulates that Gay’s lampooning of the politics and public morality of the day in the 18th century, is not a far cry from the corruption and inequality that is still evident in the 21st century.
The Beggar’s Opera is running at the Sandra Faire & Ivan Fecan Theatre until February 1st 2014. Tickets $7 General Admission, $12 for Seniors and Students.