Where did the idea come from?

If you've read the About the Author page, you'll have noticed that I'm currently writing a second version of The Beggar's Opera!  Now two adaptations of the same play might sound like a bit of overkill, but I've had a very long history with that show, which started way back when I was in university.

beggars opera hogarth

I discovered John Gay's masterpiece by accident one afternoon when I was looking through scores at South Woodford library to get ideas for which show the Queen May College Light Opera Society could perform next.  I realised very quickly that I would need to adapt the original (1728) version for modern tastes, but the vitality and realism of the cast of characters was such that it instantly seemed modern (in my imagination, at least).  To cut a long story very short indeed, I rewrote the show and we performed it in modern dress, with completely revamped music a year later.

Thirty years or so later, I played a part in a production of A Chorus of Disapproval, by Alan Ayckbourn, which uses the Beggar's Opera as a vehicle within the play.  I was the only person to know the original, and it fell to me to arrange and teach the remainder of the cast the music for the excerpts used in the play.  I remembered then how well the Beggar's Opera had worked when we put it on in London, and as I had just published my adaptation of A Savoy Christmas Carol using the music of Arthur Sullivan, I realised that I could do the same with the Beggar's Opera.

So, I created my first adaptation of the show, called The Savoy Beggar's Opera.  It was intended to perform the piece in the Summer of 2012, but various difficulties got in the way - the rehearsal period proved to be too short for the scale of the piece, and summer holidays and other commitments prevented us from finding a complete cast (in particular a chorus who could do justice to Sullivan's music).  So we cancelled.

I was determined that we should put the show on, as it contains such a wealth of wonderful characters, and, as a political satire, was as relevant today as it was in the eighteenth century.  I'm not the only person to think that - Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil adapted it to create the Threepenny Opera in 1928 (remember Mack the Knife?).  So, I decided that we would create a new adaptation, this time without the necessity for 4-part chorus in order to cut down the rehearsal time, and reduce the requirement for so many people.

So much for my obsession with the Beggar's Opera!  But it doesn't tell you where the idea for the book came from...

While I was researching the Beggar's Opera, I found out that prior to its amazing success at the Haymarket Theatre in 1728, it had been turned down by the Drury Lane Theatre.  Of course, the term 'amazing success' is relative - it ran for sixty-nine nights - but this should be compared with the usual run of theatrical performances in those days, which were lucky to reach their third night (on which the author got paid!).  So sixty-nine was  equivalent to the run of Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables in our day.

So who made the disastrous mistake of turning down the Beggar's Opera (equivalent to a publisher's rejecting the Harry Potter books, these days!)?  His name was Colley Cibber, and he was one of the three partners who held the license to run the Drury Lane Theatre.

It was when I started to read about Colley Cibber, and his amazingly dysfunctional family, that the idea for the book hit me.  But more about that in my next post...

© Katisha Limited 2013