Langham Court Theater’s new play shows a complicated chorus of disapproval

Director Wendy Merk admits the Langham Court Theater A chorus of disapproval provided many unique challenges to the amateur theater company, not the least of which was figuring out how to define the play.

“This play is in a way what you might call a semi-musical,” says Merk. “It’s mostly a comedy. There are interspersed musical numbers. They are quite short and they are all taken from The Beggar’s Operaa very old coin from 1728.

This does not mean that spectators should expect to see a traditional opera. Merk tells the story of The Beggar’s Opera somehow reflected in A chorus of disapproval.

A chorus of disapproval is set in the 1970s and uses material from another play, from 1728 (photo provided).

“We chose to set it in 1978,” she says. “It’s a British play. It’s set somewhere in the north of England. It’s pretty vague as to where it is. It’s a pretty small town and it’s a troupe of amateur theater, but they get into all sorts of stuff behind the scenes, so there’s infamous romances and business dealings and that kind of stuff. So in a way, that’s reflected in the plot of The Beggar’s Opera.”

Merk has his reasons for settling down A chorus of disapproval in the 70s. She doesn’t want to say too much, but she does say that there is a scene where two characters “engage in a very typical activity of the 1970s”.

“I don’t want to give it away because that’s a big part of the comedy in the play,” she says. “But I thought it would be really fun. The play was written around 1985 so it’s not that different. Also, some of the 1978 clothes were so outrageous and the colors were so garish, especially the men. Men were much more colorful in the 70s than they are today; I mean, we all were, in a way. So it’s a fun look for customers.

Ultimately, outfitting a cast of 17 amateur actors in 1978 and 1728 costume is no easy task.

“It’s a huge job for the costume designer, Pearl Arden, and she did an amazing job,” Merk says. “She has people helping her, but she did the essentials. There are plenty of costumes and wigs to follow…and shoes and boots.

Costumes are just the tip of the iceberg. A chorus of disapproval is a room within a room, which means multiple sets, a challenge Merk chose to meet by incorporating the transitions into the room instead of leaving the audience in the dark.

“I decided I didn’t want any blackouts because there’s quite a lot of scenery changes and there’s these little snippets of songs that are interspersed between scenes, where a character is standing at one end of the stage and just sings the song, and the song kind of mirrors what’s going on in the stage, but I didn’t want to have a blackout every time that happened,” she says. “We use what we call periactoids – three flats on one unit, you can rotate and change the set. You can roll them up and down. So they’re used to give the impression of, ‘Oh, that’s a different scene. This is a cafe, or this is a pub, or The Beggar’s Opera Position.'”

Despite her challenges, Merk says she’s excited about the production.

“It’s a very well-written play,” she says. “It’s very funny and there’s a lot of depth in all the characters, which is really nice. They are not just superficial and burlesque characters.

A chorus of disapproval
Various times, until Saturday June 23
$17 student tickets, Langham Court Theater
langhamtheatre.ca

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