Words by John Gay and Music by John Gay
Nuffield Theatre,
July 1991
Cast List
Mrs Peachum
Polly Peachum
Mat of the Mint
Jenny Diver
Sukey Tawdry
Lucy Lockit
Diana Trapes
The Governor
The Beggar
The Governor's Wife

Notes on this performance

75. The Beggar’s Opera 

England expects…

After the matinee of HMS Pinafore, Philip de Grouchy addressed the company. He announced that he was directing The Beggar’s Opera in the summer, explained that it was a story featuring snippets from popular songs of the 18th century, gave an outline of his vision, ensured that everyone was aware that it was part of their English heritage and implied that it was their patriotic duty to be involved – all that was missing was Land of Hope and Glory!

As a rallying call it was highly successful and 37 members ‘signed up’ to be in the production – a good number for a summer show. Unfortunately The Beggar’s Opera involves very little chorus work but Philip rose to the occasion by writing an orgy scene for the very beginning and then insisting that all of the cast were on stage for the whole show (and most of the interval) reacting to the action – they were, after all, meant to be in a prison!  

The show was set in Newgate and Ken Spencer’s set design was spectacularly realistic. The company were all inmates (beggars, thieves, highwaymen, bawds and harlots) who (after the initial orgy) decide to act out a play written by one of their number (a beggar). Philip had hoped to include the four piece band in the action, making them prisoners who find instruments in the straw and then accompany as required but, much to his disappointment, MD David Frost vetoed the idea as he thought the lighting might not be adequate for them to play properly. 

The show was long but was notable for several excellent performances - the review in the Echo mentioned five of them… ‘Outstanding was David Rayner as the ten-timing Captain MacHeath and his acting and vocals were as bold as his scarlet red jacket. Wearing the most impressive wig was David Jupp who made a perfect Peachum and found an ideal foil in Peter Robson’s Lockit. Rivals in love were Margaret Amey as Lucy and Susie Williams as Polly who added sparks of life to the show.’

There were also several interesting and unexpected cameos on view. Long term chorus member and set builder Bob Gibson got the action going as the Beggar whilst Chairman Brian Howard and Wardrobe Mistress Jan Sly became the Governor of Newgate Prison and his wife. Colin Pritchard made his SOS debut as a guard and treated everyone to a different accent every night (Philip did stop this practice after Thursday’s guard seemed to have just arrived on a boat from Bombay!). 

Memorable moments for this production include Philip insisting that the women in the cast remember that they are supposed to be strumpets and not refined ladies from Bassett or Shirley and David Rayner’s reluctance to have a noose round his neck during the hanging scene – possibly a wise move!

Remarkably The Beggar’s Opera made a profit of £580, no mean feat for a show staged in a very hot July!

Terry O'Farrell

Photo of Jan and Brian

Jan Sly and Brian Howard as the Governor of Newgate Prison and his wife

Photo of Cast

Promotional Photo: Peter Robson (Lockit) with kneeling -  Wendy Dalton (Jenny Diver), Susan Williams (Polly Peachum), Margaret Amey (Lucy Lockit), standing - Pam de Grouchy (Diana Trapes), David Rayner (Macheath), Clare Minns, Carol Bunday (Sukey Tawdry), John Miller (Filch), David Jupp (Peachum), Hazel Killham (Mrs Peachum)