The Threepenny Opera*** (National Theatre – Olivier)

Posted: June 9, 2016 in Theatre

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Yes, Macky’s back in town! Adapted from John Gay’s 18th Century work The Beggar’s Opera, this “musical” by dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill premiered in pre-Nazi Germany and its view of London street life became a vehicle for rather crude messages relating to social injustices of the day. Taking it full circle, Simon Stephens’ new translation brings it home near to Limehouse, Shadwell, Wapping etc, before these areas gave way to unaffordable housing and all that goes with it. Assorted thieves, beggars, pimps and whores troop before us, accompanied by what sounds like a Salvation Army band, most prominent among them the serial womaniser Captain Macheath, aka “Mack the Knife” (Rory Kinnear giving a passable impersonation of Ross Kemp). The first half of this production has a start/stop feel, the company perhaps trying too hard to make unsubtle, dated material amusing and relevant and then having to pause out of sheer exhaustion. The second half flows much better and is never less than entertaining. Haydn Gwynn is gloriously wicked as Celia, married to Nick Holder’s odious Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum; Sharon Small is delightfully slutty as Glaswegian harlot Jenny and Debbie Kurrup’s Lucy pleads the strongest case possible for Macheath’s devotion. However, as Polly Peachum, the East End girl that Macky marries to seduce, Rosalie Craig resembles Mary Poppins flying in from deepest Surrey. Rufus Norris’ staging, although flagging occasionally, is mostly vibrant and Vicki Mortimer’s versatile sets make good use of the Olivier stage, with long stairways reaching upwards in key scenes. Brecht can often be a hard pill to swallow, but here the sugar-coating is thick. Unmemorable, but amusing.

Performance date: 7 June 2016

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