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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Monday, September 21, 2009

The Beggar's Opera, theatre review

Published in The Guardian

The Beggar's Opera

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
2 out of 5

You have a great idea. You imagine John Gay's 18th-century satire could be set in some cyberpunk future, where the highwayman Macheath is now a "super-thief" at large in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. It would be an oversexed society in which the outlaw's girlfriends, with their nostalgic obsession for early 21st-century designer gear, would be motivated by lust, while the older generation would care only for money. At the age of 121, Madonna would be the last surviving celebrity from the time of the global floods, and the world would have descended into dog-eat-dog violence.

You realise that instead of using the musical arrangements of Johann Pepusch or Benjamin Britten, you could bring in Glasgow's A Band Called Quinn for an authentically grungy blast of Goldfrapp-style electro-pop. And you know designer Kai Fischer would dream up a stunning set, a literal underworld beneath a root-strewn ceiling with a large skylight through which you could see Finn Ross's comic-book animations. It would be bold, adventurous and of-the-moment, and would break the rep theatre routine for the Royal Lyceum as it launched its autumn season.

Indeed, Matthew Lenton's hugely ambitious production for Vanishing Point achieves all of these things – but entirely at the expense of the play.

The actors can't be blamed for looking lost, and not only because many are performing from behind gas masks or up to their ankles in sand. It's also because the black-and-white certainties of the production's Bladerunner world leave no room for characterisation, making most of them look like hammy pantomime villains.

They are not helped by an updated script that sets out to be witty but comes across as plain vulgar: Macheath, says one, is "an absolute fucking turn-on". This is a production that, despite ticking all the fashionable boxes, has nothing to say about today.

© Mark Fisher 2009

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