Review: Threepenny Opera at Nottingham Playhouse
Nothing quite prepared us for the scene that greeted us when we entered Nottingham Playhouse for a performance of Brecht and Weill’s classic musical tale The Threepenny Opera last week. Around the auditorium protest banners hung from the walls and the ripped, red curtain seemed to be a parody of the formal velvet curtain that we traditionally associate with the theatre.
It is set in the seedy, gangland underworld of Soho, against the backdrop of an industrial warehouse. JJ Peachum (played by Garry Robson) and his wife (played by Victoria Oruwari) run a rather dubious operation in which they send poor folks out to beg money from the rich. Despite his own shortcomings, Peachum is horrified when he learns that his daughter is planning to marry the notorious gang leader Macheath (‘Mack the Knife’) and he hatches a plan to thwart their relationship.
Brecht intended his work to be a satire on the capitalist system but the cast of this production use it chiefly as a way of highlighting society’s perceptions around disability and wider questions about our value system. Starring both disabled and able-bodied actors, it was deliberately confrontational. In true Brechtian style it also challenges our idea of what a theatrical performance should be. The morally-bankrupt characters evoke little sympathy which forces us to question their actions while the defiant narrator – played by John Kelly – provides an insightful commentary which stops us simply sitting back and allowing the story to wash over us.
Despite the difficult subjects tackled the play was also very enjoyable. The live jazz band was glorious and the actors were accomplished performers who really brought their characters to life. What stood out for me was the integration of BSL interpretation and surtitles in this fully accessible production. Rather than them simply being an ‘add-on’ the sign language interpreter added flair and creativity to the performance while the surtitles formed part of the backdrop.
The Threepenny Opera is a collaboration between Nottingham Playhouse, Graeae Theatre Company, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and West Yorkshire Playhouse and it runs until Saturday.
Have you seen the show? What did you think? Join in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #3popera.