Mack The Knife

Aug 17 2017 | By More

★★★☆☆       Knife-edge noir

Bourbon Bar (Venue 333): Sat 12 – Sun 27 Aug 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson

Exuding menace and evoking smoky nightclubs, Black Bat’s Mack The Knife at the Bourbon in the Free Fringe has some odd moments but ultimately impresses.

Writer and director Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller has come up with a homage to film noir and jazz clubs set in 1958 Soho, as a detective encounters a nightclub chanteuse in his attempts to solve a series of grisly murders.

Ruth Brown (left) with the band. Pic Black Bat

The decision to set the play in London rather than America is a mixed blessing. Having a femme fatale who sounds like a well-spoken woman from the North of England is certainly refreshing, but some of the dialogue has not successfully crossed the Atlantic.

It is understandable that those involved in the jazz world would use American slang – even if some of it is suspiciously modern. What is considerably less clear is why a London detective would use the vocabulary of the US police, call himself ‘Detective Foster’ in the way no English policeman would, or routinely be ‘packing heat’. Similarly, ‘brass’ may have been US slang for the police but in London criminal circles it meant something else entirely.

There are a couple of hesitant moments in the performances. Jacob Brown is just a little too sweet to be the hard-bitten cop, but has a confidence about him that augurs well. Edward Meltzer’s Deacon is considerably less at home without his guitar in front of him, but has a good stab at his character.

Ruth Brown’s Lady dominates proceedings, as well she should, singing the featured jazz standards (backed by Brodie Smith’s jazz quartet) with panache and displaying real presence as an actor.

imaginative and expansive

Brimmer-Beller’s direction is imaginative and expansive, with inventive use made of the authentically poky nightclub space, although this does create problems of sightlines on occasion.

Sitting awkwardly between straightforward recreation of the genre and parodying it, this is all a bit too silly and throwaway to work as a piece of noir. However, it has a great deal going for it. Intriguing questions about race and gender are seamlessly integrated into a narrative that, combined with the live music, makes for an accomplished piece of theatre.

Running time 1 hour (no interval)
Bourbon Bar and Nightclub (Venue 333), 24a Frederick St, EH2 2JR
Saturday 12 – Sunday 27 August 2017
Daily (not Thurs) at 4.00 pm
Details on the PBH Free Fringe website:
Company Website:
Facebook: @MackFringe
Twitter: @blackbatuk

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