Monday, June 24

Polly (The Heartbreak Opera) – Pleasance Theatre

Sharp Teeth Theatre and Marie Hamilton resurrect an age-old play and story, adding their own chatmates of satire, camp, and 18 original songs!  Prepare to get bedazzled at the sheer variety of characters, costume changes and diversity of pitches four women belt out on stage. It’s an impressive labour of love that evokes pathos, laughter and disdain for the bedfellows of patriarchy and imperialism.

The first half paints the sordid picture of how women are treated, the petty fights between women to hold power, male attention and position. At points, the background score music is overarching the performers, and at some points, the different scales need to be heard clearly. The first half of the play probably stays truthful to the 1729 John Gay’s banned sequel to The Beggar’s Opera, ‘Polly’. The opera relates the adventures of Polly Peachum in the Carribean Islands. In the original, Macheath is transported to the West Indies and becomes a pirate, disguised as a black man and under the pseudonym of ‘Morano’. This aspect is not touched upon in the play other than a mention that the actors are very pale. The women bring to the stage some amazing gender-bending and scalding wit.

The Beggar’s Opera is a satire of the pretensions, self-interests, and double standards of 18th-century society. Several of the characters mirror real personalities of our present times, one cannot but miss the mayoral candidate in union jack knickers making an absolute fool of himself played to the T by Norma Butikofer who is hilarious.

However, come the second half, the energy, the songs, the rhythms and the tune come of age like sweet wine.  Confident, potent and heady. You could feel the spines curve, the men in power fall off their pedestals, and the guffaws become louder in the audience. Sweet retribution. Special mention is given to seven-month-pregnant Marie Hamilton, who is a force to reckon with! She brings the paucity, punch, and timbre of ferocity to each character she sketches alive. Her most memorable is Macheath: Mack the Knife. The score is brought together by Cameron Macintosh award-winner Ben Osborn, Madeline Shann and Ellie Showering, showcasing wit and improv combining story and prose, each song making the plot thicker. 18 unique songs are no small feat! Take a bow, team!

Another standout character is the ‘Poet’, brought to life by Madeline Shann. Her role as a narrator provides a steady anchor amidst the whirlwind of the plot. Eleanor Nawal’s portrayal, at times screechy and trashy, at times tragic, builds a strong connection with the audience, evoking empathy. The final song, a poignant anthem for us all, is eagerly anticipated if released because it’s an earworm! This play is poised to sweep many awards.

Reviewer: Anisha Pucadyil

Reviewed: 10th May 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.