The Threepenny Opera

A common preconception of Brecht's work is that his political views, his 'anti-theatre' style and the didactic tag that precedes any conversation about it, creates theatre that screams "worthy" and "intellectual" but offers little enjoyment for the average theatregoer. So it's refreshing and surprising that Rufus Norris' latest production of Simon Stephens' adaptation of one of Brecht's best known and most accessible pieces, The Threepenny Opera – here set in a London that is part early twentieth century poverty and part current day post-Brexit – is anything but hard work, being more like a naughty, adults-only panto, piled with filthy language, drugs and on-stage buggery. It's not for the easily offended but it's not for theatre purists either (and why should it be?). It's all just a bit of fluffy rude fun that's quite enjoyable, even if lacking anything of substance that will stay with you once you're back on the Southbank.

A production that has no major flaws but also has no major successes – done pretty well.

The tale of Captain Macheath AKA 'Mack the Knife' – the murderer, womaniser, blackmailer and all-round philanderer – as he attempts to evade capture and hanging whilst being pursued by the Peachums (the parents of Mack's new 'wife' Polly) and Tiger Brown (the bent cop with whom he shared history and secrets from the war at Kandahar) is a swipe at capitalism, corruption and the power that comes when one plays with both. Rory Kinnear's Mack evokes no threat of fear and lacks power so doesn't display any of the animal magnetism that supposedly draws so many women (and men) to him, so making his proclamation that he isn't a "heartbreaker; arse-breaker maybe" seem more deluded than crude. He is more like Trigger from Only Fools and Horses – fun to watch, laid back but a bit too stupid to be the criminal mastermind we are told he is.

His performance befits the cartoonesque style that those around him also play to – using a particular exaggerated trait to make for easy laughs - such as in Nick Holder's sinisterly camp, cross-dressing Peachum, Haydn Gwynne's drunkenly sluttish Celia Peachum and Matt Cross' post bum-stabbing hobble and (quickly tedious) over-use of the words 'cock' and 'cocking' as Officer Smith. Even the jokes towards and by disabled actor Jamie Beddard's performance as hoodlum Matthias (I only use the disabled moniker because it is very much used for the jokes on stage) are a bit too obvious to either raise a laugh or make a wider comment on anything (ok, it's funny when he calls Mack a cunt for pretending not to understand his speech but only because we can't help but laugh at naughty words!). Students of Brecht may say we aren't meant to care about or believe in any of his characters – if that was Norris' objective, then he has clearly succeeded.

Vicki Mortimer's set design on the challenging Olivier stage uses the revolve well to move us through settings often and with ease and is pure Brechtian – even if it does seem like expensive sparsity. We see all the backstage lights and rigs, props are labelled ('Lepers', 'Big Flag for Scene 7', 'The Pink Envelope') and the actors build and dismantle the wooden sets with a practised choreography. At times there is too much going on for us to maintain focus (at the end of Act One when the murder takes place, the speedily revolving of the set whilst cast run off and on doing their own thing – including a random depiction of two men fucking – is unnecessarily disjointed and distracting) but it generally creates realism within its overtly (and rightly) theatrical structure.

Brecht and Weill's songs are also performed well across the board – from George Ikediashi's Balladeer opening with a voice that is treacly rich, booming and slightly threatening, to Rosalie Craig singing with a purity that suits her bookish Polly Peachum exquisitely. But the use of onstage musicians at times drowns out the lyrics – arguably the most important part of Brecht's characterisations. It all leads to a production that has no major flaws but also has no major successes – done pretty well, offers some laughs and good songs (being Weill though, they aren't tunes to stick in your head for long) and it's interesting to look at, even if you don't always know where you should be looking. It just doesn't excite or have the energy that you would expect a piece by the new-ish Artistic Director of the National Theatre to have. It's a quick burger to satiate a hunger pang rather than the exquisite last meal that Macheath – or we – really desire. 

Reviews by Simon Ximenez

National Theatre

The Normal Heart

★★★
Arts Theatre

Oleanna

★★
Olivier Theatre

Under Milk Wood

★★★★
Lyttelton Theatre

The Seven Streams of the River Ota

★★★★★
National Theatre Olivier

The Visit

★★★
National Theatre - Olivier

My Brilliant Friend

★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

London scrubs up for the coronation. The thieves are on the make, the whores on the pull, the police cutting deals to keep it all out of sight.

Mr and Mrs Peachum are looking forward to a bumper day in the beggary business, but their daughter didn’t come home last night.

Mack the Knife is back in town.

Most Popular See More

Back to the Future - The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Anything Goes

From £42.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Cinderella The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Come From Away

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets