The Threepenny Opera is itself an adaptation of John Gay’s The Beggars Opera and Rufus Norris, director of this and the National Theatre has again adapted this to the modern world, less by locale as it’s still in the East End, more by values as the cast has many black actors and a disabled one. The star playing Captain Macheath is Rory Kinnear. I very much doubt this will be the success of the year to show that the National can still produce the likes of Warhorse, The History Boys, Master of Two Servants and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.
It’s a daring edgy production with plentiful use of the f and c word. Indeed the only word that disabled actor enunciates clearly is “c-nt”. My use of a dash indicates I come from a different generation not used to foul language from the stage. The set consists of paper scaffolds and stairs and sometimes a elevated ring to show the moon.
I am no Brechtian scholar but I do know he despised the values of the bourgeoisie. For him to rob a bank was a social act as the bank was a villain. However a rather different picture of the poor emerged here. Peachum the King of the Beggars was played camply in high heels with a ladies wig by Nick Holder; Macheath’s relationship with the police chief Tiger Brown was homo-erotic. Macheath himself was undone by his philandering after women and the vengeance mother and father Peachum sought after he married their daughter. Nor did the music come anywhere near Kurt Weill’s score for Brecht. This was all the more glaring as the Weill masterpiece Mac the Knife was the first song.
In short the musical told us more about current production values at the Natonal. Rufus Norris has already been criticised for a play with torture scenes so searing 2 members of the audience fainted. Here we had to endure a scene where a strung up prostitute has her finger broken by Peachum in one of those sadistic scenes normally reserved for Gestapo interrogation in a war film.
As a regular to Chichester which rolls out very season an engaging programme of old and new I sometimes wish our National Theatre would bang a few less diversity drums and be more sensitive to audience appeal.