Thursday, 30 June 2016

'The Threepenny Opera' at the National Theatre

A new production of 'The Threepenny Opera' has opened at the National Theatre and I was lucky enough to see it in preview and again last week. Yes, I've already seen it twice and it's only been playing for a few weeks. Does that give you a clue?

This is a new version of the Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill play translated by Simon Stephens and brought up to date  and stars Rory Kinnear as Macheath, aka Mack the Knife. It also proudly boasts that it 'contains filthy language and immoral behaviour'. Ooo-er, I did hope so!

The show opens with the Balladeer introducing us to Mack the Knife who has returned to London in time for the King's jubilee (and we see some of his handiwork, liberally slaughtering the populace), introduce us to Mr Peachum and his troupe of beggars and miscreants and learn that his daughter has gone missing. O dear, where can Polly be now that Mack is back? He's only married her to get his leg over but when his gang also want her she sings 'Pirate Jenny' to show how foolish they'd be if they went down that route!

We meet Mrs Peachum coming home in the early hours after a night on the town (she seems to have 'an understanding' with Mr Peachum) in her Otto Dix red dress, Jenny the drug addict and prostitute who loves the dashing Captain Macheath, and, later the chief of police. A more disgraceful bag of ne-er-do-wells it would be hard to find. And it gets worse because Peachum has given his gang of beggars a cause and something to believe in and he could bring down the establishment... seems rather current given the referendum.

This version of the play is fast moving and quick-witted and it's certainly found its feet. It almost felt like these actors were their characters, there's a belief in there somewhere that was most impressive. Dashing around the stage, up and down the ladders and platforms, every now engaging the audience as if we're part of the crowd on the street watching the shenanigans, all of it kept the pace going, moving swiftly through the scenes.

I loved the set made largely of plywood and brown paper (they must have a huge roll of brown paper backstage to replace the number of panels people crashed through), starting off sparse and gradually becoming thick with panels as the actors brought more 'walls' on stage and later when a huge set emerged from below and whoosh! we have a complex stage to reflect the back streets of the East End. The staging and the lighting all worked, moving from simple to complex and back, actors moving the set around the stage as needed for the next scene. Well done to Rufus Norris and Vicki Mortimer for that.

It was great fun to see Rory Kinnear take on the role of Captain Macheath, milking it for all it's worth and he can really sing. Rory has a great list of Shakespeare under his belt (and I saw him try comedy  in 'Last of the Hausmans') so he can act but it was great to see how versatile he can be. It was also good to see Haydn Gwynne as Celia Peachum careering round the stage in her tight red frock giving as good as she gets and Nick Holder does good sinister as Peachum. Meet him in a dark alley? I don't think so! Rosalie Craig was very good as young Polly who brought a nice sense of menace to 'Pirate Jenny'. George Ikediashi (aka Le Gateau Chocolat) set the scene nicely when he opened with 'Mack the Knife' and Debbie Kurup was great fun as Macheath's lover (one of many, obviously) in her sing-off with Polly in the jail scene.

This show is great fun and deserves a sell-out run. It is dark and menacing, laugh-out loud at times, full of great songs and performances and a lovely set that really works. Well done people, I'll be back!

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