FOR the Theatre Royal festival run by young people, here is the latest shot across the bows from Belt Up Theatre, the resident company of bright young things.
The Sex Pistols-pastiche poster of Margaret Thatcher, her eyes blacked out by a Down With Thatcher banner, tells you this is the work of agent provocateurs, or liberal-minded lefties as director Alexander Wright defines their political stance.
His co-artistic director, writer James Wilkes, has taken the bones of John Gay’s 1728 political and social satire on Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole and given it anarchic new life in another time of rich-versus-poor financial turbulence, Thatcher’s Britain in 1988.
From there it pours scorn on 2011’s similar strife: how in the week of Boy George Osborne’s Budget speech, and here George is lampooned as a Bullingdon toff schoolboy, playing at Mrs T’s feet with ambitious young Dave Cameron.
It should be noted that this Mrs Thatcher takes the form of Madam Snatcher (Laura Horton), the nation’s brothel keeper, dressed in trademark blue dress, but shorter, with fishnets, and the hair peroxide. Anything Spitting Image could do all those years ago, Belt Up can do now with no less contempt.
For this updated musical tale of thieves, whores and highwaymen, Dominic J Allen, Belt Up’s on-stage provocateur in chief and foremost actor, doubles up as playful scene-setting narrator and the despicably behaved Mr Peachum.
He is joined in the satirical mayhem by a cross-dressing Marcus Emerton as Mrs Peachum, Joe Hufton as low-life Filch, principal singer Serena Manteghi as Polly Peachum and James Wilkes as her leather-clad, two-timing lover Macheath.
This scattergun show is crazily energetic, erratic, ill-disciplined, foul-tongued, occasionally self-indulgent yet often very humorous, especially on all matters financial and hypocritical. The comedic style flies madly between The Young Ones, the League Of Gentlemen, Bertolt Brecht and Footlights sketch shows, but Wilkes’s script also has a sense of poetry, never more so than its upbeat finale, a rallying call to enjoy life.
Best of all, Alexander Wright and Dan Wood’s music is a new string to Belt Up’s bow, and its impact is reminiscent of the songs in Spring Awakening. What’s more, this constantly evolving company always loves surprising its audience, and does so with fantastic results with the trombone player in the dress circle and the “Secret Choir”, whose members leap up from seats all over the theatre.
Such moments of blissful theatricality make Belt Up stand out from the new radical theatre crowd.
The Beggar’s Opera, Belt Up Theatre, TakeOver Festival, York Theatre Royal, tonight at 7.30pm and tomorrow, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk