In a Britain caught in the wake of Brexit and austerity, it may be surprising that a near 100 year-old German opera is one of the most relevant shows onstage at the minute. Straddling the roles of an accomplished musical and mischievous satire, the National Theatre’s ‘Threepenny Opera’ provides the “cheap” laughs it promises – and a whole lot more.
The onstage band and cast bring Weill’s brilliant score to life, as fresh as if it were written today. There are many notable mentions in the large company, from the pinny-wearing yet somehow-sinister Nick Holder as ‘Mr. Peachum’, to the cartoon buffoonery of Peter de Jersey’s ‘Tiger Brown’. Most notable however is Rosalie Craig as ‘Polly’, a role she has completely reinvented and brought to life with vigour and voice, both more than capable of stealing the male character’s power and the audience’s attention. She proves more than a match for Rory Kinnear’s shark-like magnetism as Mackheath. (Kinnear himself a factor of surprise, showing off a good voice.)
As big as the show and characters are, the set is the understated, useable and ‘trashable’ construct Brecht might applaud. The simple wooden frames and paper walls provide comic entrances, labyrinth-like interiors, and evenfall on top of characters. The simplicity doesn’t become boring because of the ingenuity of Norris’ direction, and Mortimer’s design. However the style and content are definitely not for the theatrically uninitiated or the faint of heart. If open-minded and not put off by filthy language and behaviour, the show is riotously entertaining. If however you are looking for a groundbreaking production to push the limits of commercial theatre, and satire of the political climate, then Threepenny falls short. Although dark, and at times sceptical, it never strays too far from safe norms. However it remains the “cheap opera” it promises, with laughs and jibes of London and it’s populace, and a good bit of classic theatre reinvented for 2016.