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Beggarman-Thief! (1984)

Duration: First Part: 45 minutes; Second Part: 35 minutes

Libretto: composer, after the book Peter Fidus by Sven Wernström, with interpolated poems of William Blake

Look at them lovely clothes!
But just look at them lovely prices!
I've been down the disco-Vesty-Freakout (Ooh!)
Twice in this get-up already...
I can't go again 'til I get somethin' new!

An opera in Two Acts for Young People to sing and play


McQueen's second stage work for young people was commissioned by the Inner London Education Authority's Cockpit Theatre. It was produced in Wigan during his residency at NorthWest Arts and at the '84 Buxton Festival. The show was presented by over a hundred non-specialist students from Wigan schools and colleges aged from 11-18. Wernstrom's colourful and touching story concerns the rise from rags to riches of con-man Tricky Micky, who befriends various unscrupulous caricature "company directors" to exploit the buying public.

Beggarman-Thief! needs six individual singers (some parts may be doubled between the two Acts), a large chorus and a band fronted by an adult pianist. Student piano duet, six-piece woodwind and brass groups, plus six percussionists, complete the scoring.

In the First Act (45 minutes) Baby Micky is introduced through "Infant Joy", one of many poems of William Blake which are stitched into the libretto.Micky is immediately orphaned (!) and taken in by a miserly Vicar and his kindly Wife. They bring him up very harshly as a kind of unpaid servant; he becomes an outsider at school - laughed at by his comrades for his poverty. As soon as he can, he runs away and on his journey to The Big Town he encounters a rich mix of people who offer him memorable experiences.... At his journey's end he learns he can use these experiences to offer tips to the tycoons who run the Big Town.


In Act Two (35 minutes) his growing success leads him to employ the talents of Tracey, a model, and Tommy and Harry, artists to help build his advertising empire. As his relationship with Tracey develops, he sees the effects of his sales strategies on ordinary people's lives. Tracey's father Mr Prol finally leads the community against its exploiters and the work ends with a question mark about the future...

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MP3 audio extract (1'48"):
Act 1

Other Operas:
Insight into Night
Line of Terror
East and West
Picasso: out of the blue
Shawna and Ron's Half-Moon
Hollow Hill