Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Opening scene of Threepenny Opera, 3 April 2014, by Margot Williams

{Guest post by Margot Williams in Birmingham, United Kingdom}

I saw an electronic flyer for The Threepenny Opera online, and loving Mack the Knife and Pirate Jenny, but knowing little of the story, I bought a ticket. It was the day of the Saharan Smog, and the traffic was shocking; I barely made it to the theatre in time.

Entering the foyer, I wasn’t sure if I’d arrived in the middle of a flashmob. There were homemade banners, and people singing on the stairs; I threaded my way through the crowd and encountered a Little Person clapping along – "join in!" he cried, so I did – but I still hadn’t twigged. Once I entered the auditorium, I realised that the performance had simply spilled into the foyer. The space was festooned with more banners, and at centre stage amid the apparent chaos, a man in a power chair dominated the space, announcing the cast members.

This new translation – or rather, reinterpretation – of The Threepenny Opera is set in the near future: the run up to the coronation of King Charles III. Austerity has bitten deep, the struggle for survival is brutal, and we have finally brought back hanging. Who better to bring to life this tale of those at the bottom of the pile than the multi-ability players of the Graeae Theatre Company?

JJ and Mrs Peachum have raised their daughter to join the upper classes on the backs of the rag-tag band of beggars run by JJ, but Polly has thwarted them by falling for the beautiful and charismatic underworld boss, Macheath, the notorious rapist and murderer. Webs of affection and violence run deep: Mack and Jenny, the first of his whores, sing of "our little knocking-shop in Bethnal Green" lending it an almost cozy domesticity; corrupt police chief Tiger Brown attends his old comrade’s wedding and they fling their arms around each other while leading the assembled guests in a rousing chorus: "the British Army / will make salami / from Basra to Goose Green..." Polly sings at her wedding, but does she choose a romantic ballad? No, she opts for Pirate Jenny. They all betray each other as the drama unfolds, but the love is perversely persistent.

Can there be a happy ending? Whether Macheath hangs or not, there will be no justice.

This is a stunning production. There is so much going on on stage, it’s almost impossible to keep up. Lyrics and text are projected onto convenient surfaces, and the brilliant (certainly to me, and I don’t know sign) interpreter is fully integrated into the action. Images flashing onto screens bring home the realisation that this is no imagined dystopia; but beyond all that, the performances, the stage-craft, the musicianship! Wheelchairs whizz round, mobility canes become part of the dance, someone’s prosthetic arm is flung back and forth – but the grace and elegance with which the performers negotiate the stage, unobtrusively handed across space by their fellows or using them for support, moved me deeply. This is what inclusivity looks like. See it if you can.

The Threepenny Opera extended trailer 

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