Back on stage after their 2002 adaptation, ‘The Villians’ Opera’ this time the task was put to Simon Stephens. Known for his bolshy and racy play texts, this seemed to be a match made in heaven between the writer and the devilishly dark Threepenny Opera, a tale of a corrupt society.
Concerning the events of a royal parade in east London, (rather than a coronation around 1900 as was originally intended) we meet ‘Mack The Knife’ Macheath, and an assortment of other east end low-lifes, trying to make a living by criminal or sordid means, à la Macheath and his gang. Having illicitly and recently married the daughter of Jonathan Peachum, the controller of London’s beggars, Peachum family interests are set at odds with the self-interest of Macheath.
This was a visceral adaptation, presented through the text, the production and the context. The bare bones of the set were constantly shifting and changing around the stage using the Olivier’s revolve like a mad theatrical Perplexus Maze Game. When trapped in a space, characters would simply jump through the paper walls, ripping their own paths through the set.
Supported by a tremendous on-stage band, Kurt Weill is the real hero of this piece, bringing the cabaret, jazz and folk styles of music back to our stage. You don’t hear music like this any more, jaunty jazz music with dark lyrics, as in the main number ‘Mack The Knife’. The vocal lines, albeit reinterpreted by Stephens helped create the perfect mood for sleaze, cut-throat self-interest and the criminal underbelly of society.
From our perspective Rory Kinnear was perfectly cast as main man Macheath. However others among the Ginger Wig and Strolling Man’s party were less convinced about his casting. Hayden Gwynn was wonderful as the wife to Jonathan Peachum whilst Mr Peachum himself, played by Nick Holder, was tremendous, alternately camp and explosive. Their daughter the smart and cock-sure Polly, was sung and performed brilliantly by Rosalie Craig.
Overall maybe Stephens could have held back a bit with some of the expletives, but as a whole this was a gloriously dark and musically riotous evening of theatre from the National.
Highlight of the piece – The set, brilliant in its versatility and Nick Holder’s outrageous Peachum and, of course, the music.