We go behind the scenes of Polly (The Heartbreak Opera)

A gender-bending, anti-colonialist and proto-feminist ballad opera.

We go behind the scenes of Polly (The Heartbreak Opera)

The new adaptation of John Gay’s forgotten gender-bending, anti-colonialist and proto-feminist ballad opera, Polly (The Heartbreak Opera) is currently on tour across the UK.

Originally written in 1729 as a sequel to The Beggar's Opera, the production was banned at the time due to its daring content.

Marie Hamilton's adaptation features 18 original songs and we now meet Polly at a tacky beach resort on a storm-hit island. We encounter jilted brides, drag king politicians, a pregnant murderess, and a pirate boyband called Blazin' Squid - all guiding us through a world of techno, tracksuits, and palm trees.

We caught up with Marie Hamilton for a behind-the-scenes look at the production.

You began developing this show five years ago, how has your relationship with the material or your perspective on the show changed over that time?

It’s only deepened it I think. We’ve all grown up in that time and the show has developed and deepened with us.

Depressingly, much of the politics has got worse since we started, so there’s still a long way to go and a lot of art that needs making if we’re going to change the world!

Gender-fuckery seems to be a strong theme in this production. Given where we're at in culture-war-on-woke stuff, how does that context inform the representation of gender in the production?

This play is a direct attack on patriarchal heteronormative culture and the insidious power structures still holding us hostage. 

I will be seven months pregnant on this tour - unplanned - but luckily one of my characters Lucy Lockit is pregnant anyway. I also play her babydaddy - the Rock 'n Roll bad boy of the 18th Century, Captain Macheath, or Mack the Knife. I’ve got a Craig David beard and a snail trail up the belly, so there’s some good gender-fuckery going on there - a cheating fuckboi pregnant with his own child. 

When did you first encounter The Beggar’s Opera?

I had studied The Beggar’s Opera at school and fallen in love with the dark, sexiness of it.

When I found out John Gay had written a sequel that was banned for being too anti-colonialist, feminist and critical of the government at the time, I fell in love with it. It ripped into the power structures of the day and had direct take-downs of politicians. It caused outrage from the establishment and they closed it down.

We’ve brought it into the 21st century and depressingly a lot of the problems are still the same. There are still lying politicians and greedy businessmen and oppressive power structures and all of us are still at the bottom of the pile - misdirecting our anger, fighting each other.

You've described this show as a call to arms - what is the call to action that you're conveying to the audience?

To see these power structures for what they are, to question them and to rail against them.

We are the many, but often we’re too scared or tired to stand up for ourselves or for others, to fight against greed and for kindness, empathy, compassion and love. 

What do you hope that people feel when they're watching Polly (The Heartbreak Opera)? 

Empowered, unsettled, with faces sore from laughing and hearts sore from the beauty of four women and non-binary people getting to wreak their vengeance onstage.

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