The Convict's Opera is adapted from John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, which was written in 1728 and is often considered the world's first musical. In the adapted version, Jeffreys relocates the action from Newgate Prison to a creaking convict transport bound for Australia. The characters are criminals, performing a show about the world they’ve left behind and may never see again.
A co-production between Out of Joint and Sydney Theatre Company, the cast of ten is comprised of five British and five Australian actor-musicians, with, according to press material, “experiences ranging from major roles in classical opera to cabaret; from musicals to documentary theatre”. The show is choreographed by John O’Connell, whose film credits include Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge, with musical arrangements by Felix Cross, who is combining Gay's original folk tunes with “modern pop classics”.
Speaking to Whatsonstage.com, Stafford-Clark said: "The Convict's Opera is a singing, dancing, multi-media show and putting it all together has been quite a challenge, but being able to do that has been a real step forward in my road back to health." The veteran director, now 67, added that retirement was "never something I envisaged". On his decision to collaborate with Sydney Theatre Company, he said: "most people in this country have seen Beggar’s Opera a few times, then I thought 'I bet those buggers in Australia haven’t seen it in a while!' - and sure enough, they hadn't had a major production there in 30 years."
Prior to fouding Out of Joint in 1993, Max Stafford-Clark founded the hugely influential Joint Stock company and was the longest-serving artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre. During his reign, from 1980 to 1992, he successfully saved the Sloane Square landmark from a campaign to withdraw arts funding and presented new work from playwrights including: Brian Friel (Faith Healer), Caryl Churchill (Top Girls, Serious Money), Terry Johnson (Insignificance), Michael Hastings (Tom and Viv), Ron Hutchinson (Rat in the Skull), David Mamet (Edmond), Wallace Shawn (Aunt Dan and Lemon), Timberlake Wertenbaker (Our Country’s Good), Alan Bennett (Kafka’s Dick) and Jim Cartwright (Road).
After finishing in Salisbury on 24 January, The Convict's Opera travels to Cheltenham Everyman (27-31 January), Manchester Library Theatre (3-7 February), Oxford Playhouse (10-14 February), Nuffield Southampton (17-21 February), WYP, Leeds (24-28 February), Warwick Arts Centre (3-7 March), Liverpool Playhouse (10-14 March) and the Rose Theatre Kingston (17-28 March).
- By Theo Bosanquet