The Threepenny Opera

Sep 16 2017 | By More

★★★★☆    Explosive

King’s Theatre: Fri 15/Sat 16 Sept 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson

The Threepenny Opera continues the verve and vitality of the Attic Collective’s previous outings, adding a musical dimension that makes for an explosive extravaganza.

Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s version of The Beggar’s Opera is a clear political satire, equating capitalism with the workings of a criminal underclass. Captain Macheath (‘Mack the Knife’) may be immoral and outside the law, but the supposedly more respectable Mr Peachum (‘the beggars’ friend) and police chief Tiger Brown are every bit his equal in greed, cynicism and self-justifying amorality.

Charlie West and Kirsty Punton. Pic Greg Macvean

From the opening, suitably Brechtian coup de theatre, the production – created by the company with director Susan Worsfold and creative producer Catrin Sheridan – certainly has no shortage of ideas. Indeed, there is almost too much going on at times, but this just adds to the energy of the production.

The end result is urgently messy – at times verging on the chaotic, but always with a vital and utterly human drive that powers Brecht’s observations on capital and exploitation, which sadly never seem to date.

There are a couple of things that do not quite work in favour of the production in this regard. The first is unavoidable – Marc Blitzstein’s translation is by far the best known, but his song lyrics in particular are famously chosen for sound first and meaning second, and some of the words are noticeably toned down from the originals.

The second criticism is an apparently odd – and admittedly minor – one, which is that much of the singing seems too accomplished. The Threepenny Opera, with its clangorous, raggedly jazzy and memorable songs, often works best when it is performed by performers who are actors first and singers second.

Here the decidedly homespun feel of a small band energetically led by MD Simon Goldring does not quite fit with a collection of vocalists who occasionally stray into an overly polished ‘musical theatre’ feel.

A scene from The Threepenny Opera. Pic: Greg Macvean

This is the only facet of the performance that in any way betrays the comparative inexperience of the company, who otherwise need no allowances made. Some of the female members of the cast are particularly strong – Kirsty Punton’s Polly Peachum, part simpering ingenue, part scarily animated china doll, is magnetic and strange, and does an impressive Pirate Jenny.

Hannah Bradley, as Polly’s mother Mrs Peachum, combines cynicism and humour in a suitably grand characterisation, while Sally Cairns and Megan Fraser both perform their featured numbers with power and emotion.

Imogen Reiter. Pic: Greg Macvean

Max Reid gives Peachum an effete detachment that works very well, and is notably strong at acting through song. Andrew Cameron’s Tiger Brown does, become a little too broadly comic at times but has an endearing energy.

Charlie West’s Macheath seems at first glance too fresh-faced and approachable, but this soon proves a real asset in portraying a character whose plausible charm is his main attraction. Not only can West go from affable humour to potential violence in the blink of an eye, his stage presence provides an effective counterpoint to some of the more freewheeling antics around him. He is also an admirably clear singer who is adept at singing with his partners in duets, rather than against them as so many young performers are wont to do.

So much thought has gone into the use of the auditorium and how to make use of the larger company that it is difficult to single out individuals, but Conor McLeod’s Reverend Kimball and Imogen Reiter’s Coaxer make the most of every opportunity. Sulie Wood and Ruari Dunn’s work on lighting and sound is excellent on what must have been a deceptively demanding show.

With so much going on, there are bound to be a couple of odd choices – the use of pictures of Edinburgh when the references are definitely to London may be yet another alienation device, but an ill-advised one. There is still no way to present a three-act work with one interval without it appearing lop-sided. Most infuriating is another of those ‘is it a curtain call or the finale?’ moments when nobody knows whether to clap until it is too late.

That this show, adult as it is in tone, is probably the most conventional of The Attic Collective’s three performances this year just shows what the other two were like. For there is nothing tame about this display of fire and forcefulnes

Running Time: two hours 40 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Friday 15/Saturday 17 September 2017.
Evenings: 7.30pm; Saturday matinee: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details:

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