The Beggar's Opera

7th April 1992

The Swan Theatre, RSC

by John Gay

Adapted by John Caird and Ilona Sekacz

This is an adaptation of John Gay’s masterpiece by John Caird and the composer Ilona Sekacz, first performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1992. It opened at the Swan Theatre on 7th April and played in repertoire for the whole of the 1992 season. It then transferred to the Barbican Theatre in London, opening on the 7th April 1993.

It is published by DPS in New York, who control the North American rights.

Inquiries concerning all other rights should be addressed to Michael McCoy at Independent Talent Group.

More information about the libretto can be found here.


John Gay's great comic masterpiece is generally agreed to be the first ever musical.

Written in 1728, The Beggar's Opera is a savagely funny satire on marriage, money and morals—as relevant and biting today as it was when first written.

In this new version by John Caird and Ilona Sekacz, the old story is given new life as all our favorite characters return, in a play within a play, where beggars and thieves create a world of love, lust, violence, deceit, greed and a little more love.

Ilona Sekacz's score uses all the old tunes, but brings them up to date in a superb synthesis of eighteenth and twentieth-century musical styles. John Caird's stage directions make the old text sizzle with life, giving a clear context for Gay's ruthless characters and driving the convoluted plot at a helter-skelter pace.

Peachum, a purveyor of stolen goods, and his rapacious wife, are horrified to find that their only child, Polly, has fallen in love with, and worse still married, Captain Macheath, the famous highwayman. Peachum cannot bear the thought that Macheath should get control of Polly's money and become the heir to his own fortune, so he plots to have Macheath captured and hanged. Act One ends with Macheath emerging from his hiding place (in Polly's bed) and the lovers swearing eternal fidelity to each other as Macheath flies to safety.

Macheath is arrested and imprisoned by the corrupt jailer, Lockit, whose daughter Lucy turns out to be another of Macheath's lovers, now heavily pregnant with his child. Polly's prison visit to her husband causes an embarrassing and ludicrous collision between the two women who fight viciously for Macheath's affection. Polly is dragged away by her father and Lucy helps Macheath escape. Act Two closes with both women grieving for their departed man.

Act Three sees Macheath re-arrested and as the story enters into ever more dark and political territory, Gay uses Macheath's plight to talk about injustice and poverty wherever and whenever it occurs. After a heartbreaking trio as Macheath and his two wives — and then a few more — bid farewell, Macheath is hanged. There follows a stunning and hilarious coup de theatre, as the public objects to the tragic turn of events. Macheath's hanging is "reversed," and the company of beggars improvise a joyful and shambolic happy ending.

Creative Team

Adaptor & Director John Caird
Composer Ilona Sekacz
Designer Kendra Ullyart
Lighting Designer David Hersey
Choreographer Anthony van Laast
Musical Director John Woolf
Sound Designer Charles Horne
Stage Manager Michael Dembowicz

Original Cast

The Beggar Alan Cox
The Player Griffith Jones
Peachum Paul Jesson
Mrs Peachum Susan-Jane Tanner
Polly Peachum Elizabeth Renihan
Filch Alan Cox
Captain Macheath David Burt
Matt o’ the Mint Nick Holder
Ben Budge Jasper Britton
Jemmy Twitcher Jonathan Cake
Robin of Bagshot Nick Kemp
Nimming Ned Geoffrey Abbott
Harry Paddington John Hodgkinson
Crook-Fingered Jack James Connolly
Wat Dreary Griffith Jones
Slippery Sam Angela Vale
Tom Tipple Emily Raymond
Lockit Anthony O’Donnell
Lucy Lockit Jenna Russell
Molly Brazen Tracy-Ann Oberman
Suky Tawdry Phyllida Hancock
Dolly Trull Emma Gregory
Mrs Vixen Emily Raymond
Jenny Diver Susie Lee Hayward
Mrs Slammekin Angela Vale
Betty Doxy Nick Holder
Mrs Coaxer Geoffrey Abbott
Diana Trapes Susan Jane Tanner
Children Georgina Askins, William Belchamber, Emily Besley,

At the Barbican

And the children were played by Natalie Cassidy, Tim Jackson, Kristie Anne Lindfield,  Owen Lloyd,  Luciano Macis, Carly Maker,  Cheryl Weymouth, Edmund Wildish