The Threepenny Opera

Bertolt Brecht (text & lyrics) and Kurt Weill (music) in collaboration with Elisabeth Hauptmann; English translation by Robert David MacDonald (dialogue) and Jeremy Sams (lyrics)
OVO in collaboration with The Cockpit
The Cockpit

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Emily Panes as Polly Peachum and Peter Watts as Macheath Credit: Elliott Franks
The Threepenny Opera Credit: Elliott Franks
The Threepenny Opera Credit: Elliott Franks

Welcome to London, where wealth dictates everything including crime in OVO’s production of The Threepenny Opera, a fluent, lively and highly entertaining sardonic take on what it’s like to live in gangster capitalism.

Everyone wears safety helmets in this workplace where a sign over the circular performance space reads “The Factory of Plays”. Most helmets are simply white, but Tiger Brown, the chief sheriff of London, has a nice blue sparkly one topped with a revolving flashing light. Other officers have simple blue shiny helmets.

The better-off folk are adorned more fashionably, with for instance a bunch of curly blond hair perched on Celia Peachum’s (Annette Yeo) white helmet.

Various bits of naked mannequins are stored along the sides of the performance space. In response to a switch flicked by a white-coated bloke under a sign reading “control room”, a cage is wheeled in containing a zombie-like human dressed in black shorts and a T-shirt. He is dressed and animated to life as the notorious gangster Captain Macheath, played by Peter Watts with charm and at times very dangerous-looking eyes.

The Peachums may seem a ‘better sort’, but we hear that business isn’t going so well, as Jonathan Peachum (Mark Carlisle) explains to a new beggar how much more difficult it is to con money out of people these days. This requires a greater use of false limbs and crutches to grab a stranger's sympathy. But he draws the line at having his daughter Polly (Emily Panes) run around with Macheath, little realising she is actually marrying him down at the abattoir where hang various bloody limbs.

It’s there that she gets to meet the wedding guest Tiger Brown (Lee Drage), who sings with his mate Macheath their old military “Cannon Song”, which details in jolly, upbeat music their tale of men being mutilated and killed fighting for the British Empire.

However, Macheath’s friendship and relationships are flexible. They include his reckless sexual encounters with at least five women. These of course contribute to his capture by the authorities with a little help from Low Dive Jenny (Faith Turner) and the Peachums. Sentenced to be executed, things look grim for Macheath, but in England, crime doesn't have to be punished. A royal official arrives to announce his pardon, his elevation to a peerage and half a million pounds to keep him happy. If you wondered what next for our man of the show, someone brings out a sign reading “The Bank of Macheath”.

It’s an exciting production that keeps its eye on the politics and, although amusing, it never sidetracks to any knockabout slapstick comedy. Ten performers, who also take acting roles, play twenty-one instruments to deliver the powerful, eclectic jazz and cabaret-influenced music of Kurt Weill.

Among the many distinctive songs from a very fine confident cast are the grand opening ballad of "Mack The Knife" and Emily Panes as Polly Peachum giving us a sobering "Pirate Jenny" song.

There is so much to enjoy about this production, you might be tempted to pop back to catch it a second time.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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