The Threepenny Opera

Taking on The Threepenny Opera can be a precarious business, as OVO demonstrate, without flinching from the challenge. They promise ‘a riotous and a rough reimagining of Bertolt Brecht's zany musical’. They don't stop there with the assurances but go on to say that in his ‘spirit of experimentation this ambitious modern update of theatre's first musical defies theatrical convention whilst aiming to shock, engage, mock and even disturb its audience’. It begs the question as to whether the production lives up to the hype.

Somewhere beneath the medium with all its shenanigans is Brecht’s message

The claim to its being ’theatre's first musical’ is at the very least questionable. Brecht himself referred to it as ‘a play with music’ and it would take more than this rendition to shock an audience nowadays. A couple of things stand out from the start. With instrumentalists spread around the front rows, Musical Director Lada Valesova has her work cut out just establishing where they are, who’s playing in a particular number and which way to face. However, she looks the part in black tails; though it might be more as a circus ringmaster than conductor. But it all comes together and justice is done to Weil’s punchy music.

With audience on four sides of the performance square, the cast of over twenty actor/musicians are well directed in using the space by Adam Nichols with Julia Mintzer and weaving their way in and out of the central scaffolding frame. That structure suggests a construction site, underscored by a cast mostly in hard hats with bright orange and yellow hi-vis jackets. Bottom halves of shop mannequins are frequently hung up and moved around. When when combined with the abattoir scene they suggest the fate that might await those who cross the path of Macheath (Peter Watts); that nasty piece of work around whom the action revolves. Others, hanging by a noose, indicating what awaits even a petty criminal. Then there are the people in white coats, with the appearance of lab workers, who keep the proceedings in order as they announce the fleeting scenes over the tannoy.

The overall effect is to make the production more ridiculous than absurd. The harsh London setting in which the original was envisioned and to which the text so pertinently relates is lost in the mish-mash of abstract locations amongst the poles. Modern references to the police, political figures and royalty hardly count as an update and counteracts the timelessness of the message. Performances are energetic but songs and text tend to be belted out rather then letting the subtleties of the music and the nuances of the script do their work.

Somewhere beneath the medium with all its shenanigans is Brecht’s message: A socialist critique of the capitalist world; far simpler and much purer.

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Produced and presented by OVO in collaboration with The Cockpit

Mack the Knife is the lord of London’s criminal underworld, but he just wants to go mainstream… he swears! When he gets together with Polly Peachum, her father isn’t too happy about it. Jonathan Peachum, head of London’s beggar mafia, wants to get him out of the picture, but Macheath is too well connected to make this easy - even the Chief of the Metropolitan Police has his back. But an old flame, with revenge on her mind, might just do for him this time...

Will Macheath make it out alive? With or without his new wife Polly? We’re in the theatre, luvvies, not real life, so all the usual rules are off!

Superstar team Brecht and Weill set out to tell us about the ugliest bits of humanity, but they couldn’t help it if the music they set it to was super catchy. Hit songs like Mack the Knife and Pirate Jenny, tell us that “life’s a bitch and then you die” on the way to accidentally becoming the hit musical success of the 1930s, and later adapted by Frank Sinatra and used to sell Big Macs. 

OVO’s raucous, riotous, and rough new production sets out to discover how a biting critique of capitalism became a money-making smash hit. 

Advisory warning – this play contains adult language and themes.

Produced and presented by OVO in collaboration with The Cockpit

By Bertolt Brecht (text & lyrics) and Kurt Weill (music) in collaboration with Elisabeth Hauptmann.English translation of the dialogue by Robert David MacDonald | English translation of the lyrics by Jeremy Sams.Directed by Adam Nichols, with Julia Mintzer | Musically Directed and Conducted by Lada Valesova.

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