Drama and dark melodies: The Beggar’s Opera captivates with music by the Tiger Lillies

A talented Prague ensemble will perform an English-language adaptation of the play that inspired Threepenny Opera.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 07.06.2023 15:20:00 (updated on 10.06.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

A new adaptation of the classic play A Beggar’s Opera features music composed by the Tiger Lillies and a cast of experienced local actors. The 18th-century drama by John Gay has been reworked with new music many times over the centuries, most famously as Three Penny Opera by German playwright Bertolt Brecht, with music by German-American composer Kurt Weill. 

Brecht and German pre-war cabaret have been an inspiration for the music band the Tiger Lillies but with a punk sensibility. The band members always wear Brechtian makeup when performing on stage.

The band has composed music inspired by the play, which will be used for the current production. (The Tiger Lillies themselves are not appearing, but their music will be performed live by the Divadlo Miloco ensemble.)

This new modern adaptation of the play about thieves, prostitutes, and lowlifes is at Divadlo Na Prádle on June 12–16. It is produced by Divadlo Miloco, an English-language theater company established in 1998, and restaurateur Glen Emery.

A long time in planning

Director Daniel Brown – a longtime figure on the Czech theater scene who shares a name with a famous thriller novel author but is in fact a different person – said he has wanted to stage either The Threepenny Opera or the Beggar's Opera for many years.

“Their timeless appeal has always fascinated me and I've always been drawn to satire and parody as well as works that defy conventional genres,” he said. He found that he now had an outstanding group of performers who were accustomed to ensemble work and working with live music.

The cast includes Marc Cram, one of the founders of the Blood, Love and Rhetoric Theatre Company, Michael Pitthan, who appears in the Cimrman English Theatre productions, and Jeff Smith, a member of the Prague Shakespeare Company. All three have been in films or television series shot in the Czechia, among other roles. Also appearing are musician Jiří Čevela, and actresses Candice Lam, Elina Palovaara, Lindsay Taylor, Valeria Vasiľová, and Elissa Levitt.

Brown said that he felt the time was finally right. “The themes of these works are as relevant today as ever and when the opportunity to use the Tiger Lillies' music was presented, I absolutely had to get to work,” he said.

Connections to the band

His relationship with the Tiger Lillies dates to 1998 when he saw a production of the musical Shockheaded Peter in London. The Tiger Lillies adapted a rather grim German children’s book and made it even darker. The play has had several international tours since its debut.

“I was toying with returning to theater after a long break studying history and philosophy. That Saturday matinee reminded me of just how powerful theater can be and shortly thereafter I was building a theater company again,” Brown said.

About 10 years later he was living in Prague and was introduced to Adrian Stout, the Tiger Lillies' bass player. “We've remained friends ever since. When discussing the idea of the show with our producer, Glen Emery – also a long-time friend of Adrian’s – the idea came up that it would be wonderful to use some of the Tiger Lillies' music,” Brown said.

Emery has long been a figure in Prague, having operated several different bars in the 1990s. A phone call to Adrian led to discussions and negotiations with Martin Jacques, the band’s accordionist, and frontman. “Suddenly, new ways of approaching the play opened up for us,” Brown said.

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“Adrian and I have often talked about collaborating before, and I'm very pleased that we're finally able to bring their music to our theater with the hope that perhaps we'll be able one day to actually perform it live with them,” Brown said.

The current staging will rely on the local cast, which is also quite competent at presenting the score live. “I've been very lucky to have musicians in our ensemble, and their interpretations of the Tiger Lillie's music have been outstanding and inspiring,” Brown said.

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