The Beggar's Opera

Norwich School at the Maddermarket Theatre

Anyone arriving at the Norwich School annual senior play expecting John Gay's 1728 classic concoction of 69 street songs, parodies and arias would be surprised.

The story is still peopled by thieves, whores, beggars, jailers and low-life, but has a keener political edge.

Even those thinking former Czech president Vaclav Havel's 1970s' play is a direct descendant of Brech's Threepenny Opera, with its haunting Mack The Knife song, would also be surprised.

The noose hanging over the central Macheath (Justin Beardsell) is less threatening than expected. However none of the surprises is a bad experience. The programme note by director Michael James tells us that everyone except the pickpocket lies.

Even criminal business has to co-operate with the police - traffic with the enemy - its an added irony as we remember the communist repression under which Havel wrote.

The central theme is the same as the original, characters covering their backs, but with more twists.

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Slimy Bill Lockitt (Fraser Mashiter) summed up his power - “they serve best who know not that they serve”.

George Crowley and Oscar Merry played the gangsters as modern lads and Sam Hinton was strong as Peachum. The girls added powerful performances, particularly Katy Astley as the enthusiastic brothel madam.

The only disappointment was the lack of a full house.