The latest production at the National Theatre, from artistic director Rufus Norris, is a new translation of Brecht & Weil’s classic The Threepenny Opera. Written by Simon Stephens, the story is transposed from the 19th to the 20th century, set in & around the East End of London in the build up to the new king’s coronation – presumably George V, in 1910, though this is not explicitly stated. Given the jazzy feel of the music (it was written in the 1920s, after all) this seems like the perfect setting, allowing sound & vision to work in harmony.
It certainly lives up to the billing of being “cheaply made”, at least in its appearance. There is no real set (in the traditional sense), instead the cast put together constructions made of wooden frames & paper, as well as wheeling on flights of stairs leading nowhere. Scene transitions could be tricky, however they are executed efficiently with the assistance of the Olivier’s revolving stage, and soundtracked by the resident musicians. Cleverly, they are based onstage – most of the time towards the back, sat on some stairs, but occasionally they are brought forward & become part of the action. The sound travels well, and the energy & dynamism of the piece is only enhanced by not hiding them away in an orchestra pit. A fine example of this comes towards the end of the first act, as Mack is pursued by the police.
Vicki Mortimer’s design is a combination of turn of the century & early Jazz Age style; Mack sharply suited, while the brothel girls wouldn’t look out of place in the vicinity of the Moulin Rouge. For reasons I couldn’t quite fathom, Peachum’s look appears to have been based on Eddie Izzard – all suits, high heels & lippy.
A lot of credit has to go to Imogen Knight for her choreography, and also to fight directors Rachel Bown-Williams & Ruth Cooper-Brown. The production is rather physical (in many ways) and the result of their work is something that’s not only visually engaging, but practical too.
Many of the company play multiple roles, popping up as beggars & jailbirds as well as their named roles.
George Ikediashi stands out in all of his guises (particularly the Balladeer), as do Peter de Jersey & Debbie Kurup as Tiger Brown & his daughter, Lucy. Mack’s dubious associates (played by Dominic Tighe, Jamie Beddard, Andrew Buckley & Hammed Animashaun) manage to be entertaining, rude & creepy in equal measure; they are a proper bunch of misfits, but provide a good chunk of the comedy. It is occasionally a bit difficult to tell exactly what Beddard says, though you always get the gist – and the swear words are very clearly exclaimed!
Mr & Mrs Peachum make for an odd couple, brought vividly to life by Nick Holder & Haydn Gwynne. Any scenes they play together are real highlights (their reunion after Mrs P’s night on the town in the first act is a particular favourite), as both Gwynne & Holder are terrific value.
Rosalie Craig is a brilliant choice for the role of Polly. She conveys a youthful naïvety that hides a sharp mind – and her comic timing makes Polly’s arguments with her mother hilarious to watch! She has the perfect voice for this style of music; her solo numbers are captivating, especially Pirate Jenny.
On the face of it, Rory Kinnear is probably a bit of an unlikely Captain Macheath, however he proves himself to be more than equal to the task set. As soon as he makes his first entrance he has a real presence about him that you simply cannot ignore. Kinnear masterfully switches between menacing, manipulative & mocking at the drop of a hat, convincing the audience he is capable of anything. He also has a powerful voice, carrying off his songs with ease.
My verdict? A dark & dirty affair that hasn’t lost its socialist edge in translation – with performances as sharp as Mack’s knife, this is one you won’t want to miss!
The Threepenny Opera runs at the National Theatre (Olivier) until 1 October 2016. Tickets are available online and from the box office – Travelex £15 and Friday Rush tickets are on offer for this production.
Post courtesy of Theatre Bloggers: www.theatrebloggers.co.uk