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The Beggar's Opera (1975)

The Beggar's Opera

A ballad opera by John Gay, performed at the Nottingham Playhouse (opened 2 October 1975).


The Beggar's Opera is an eighteenth-century ballad opera, satirising the high moral tone of the Italian opera fashionable among the social elite of the period.  Focusing on the lower classes and criminal underworld, it explores social corruption and inequality, while employing songs known to ordinary people. 

The highwayman Macheath has secretly married a young woman called Polly Peachum, despite having promised to wed Lucy Lockit, the daughter of Newgate prison's gaoler.  Polly's unsavoury parents discover the match and plot to murder Macheath for his money, now that they are unable to use their daughter in their murky business dealings. 

Macheath's predicament worsens when he is imprisoned in Newgate and must pacify Lucy, after Polly reveals the marriage.  Accepting Macheath's claim that Polly's tale is nonsense, Lucy helps the highwayman to escape from the notorious prison - only for him to be recaptured. 

Later, Lucy attempts to poison her rival; while Mr and Mrs Peachum, alongside Mr Lockit, scheme to take possession of Macheath's wealth.

The Beggar's Opera was first performed in 1728, although this production was set in the late nineteenth century, on the steps of St Paul's Church, Covent Garden.


Ben Budge/Guitar ... David Beames
Peachum ... Paul Brooke
Jenny Diver ... Diane Fletcher
Polly Peachum ... Patricia Hodge
Lockit/Jemmy Twitcher ... John Judd
Mrs Peachum/Betty Doxy ... Pat Keen
Wat Dreary ... Arthur Kohn
Filch/Banjo ... Chris Lillicrap
Macheath ... Mark McManus
Violin ... Elsie Mitchell
Suky Tawdry ... Judy Riley
Piano ... Colin Sell
Diana Trapes/Mrs Coaxer ... Ursula Smith
Matt of the Mint ... Malcolm Storry
Bass ... Ron Taylor
Flute/Clarinet ... Joe Tobia
Mrs Vixen/Lucy Lockit ... Zoe Wanamaker
Robin of Bagshot ... Richard H Williams


Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Designer: David Collis
Music: Colin Sell
Lighting Designer: Geoffrey Mersereau
Choreographer: Sue Lefton
Stage Manager: Mark Cunningham
Deputy Stage Manager: Carolyn Ross
Assistant Stage Manager: Martyn Gray
Production Photographer: Gerald Murray


This production of The Beggar's Opera was presented by the Nottingham Playhouse Company.  Zo was invited to join the company by Richard Eyre, when he became artistic director of its theatre.  They had previously enjoyed working together in Edinburgh (on plays such as The Cherry Orchard).  She speaks warmly of the 'Intelligent, funny, sensitive, encouraging and enthusiastic' director (see 'Zoe Wanamaker: Nottingham Playhouse Made Me' interview). 

The 1975-6 season at Nottingham was a formative period in her career; Zoe has praised the 'fantastic range of plays' in which she was given the opportunity to perform, during her nine months as a member of the company (see 'Zoe Wanamaker: Nottingham Playhouse Made Me' interview).  In addition to The Beggar's Opera, she appeared in The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, Jug, A Streetcar Named Desire, Pygmalion, The Servant of Two Masters, and Trumpets & Drums.


The Beggar's Opera by John Gay

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