Musicals aren’t really my thing but one with Rory Kinnear in the cast changes all that. Simon Stephen’s new version of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill ‘s The Threepenny Opera, based on John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera sees the great actor playing the leading role of Captain Mackheath, aka Mack the Knife or Mackie.
Full of bawdy humour and risqué language, Rufus Norris directs the large cast with aplomb and it is, for the most part, brilliantly entertaining. Written as a political indictment on capitalism, this version of The Threepenny Opera doesn’t ram the politics down the throat, just highlights the lives lived by the irrepressible hoodlums who inhabit the less than salubrious areas of nineteen twenties London.
Mackheath, the anti-hero, is something of a ladies man as well as being a master criminal and violent leader of a gang of thieves. Rory Kinnear isn’t the obvious choice for playing a villain who can get any woman he wants into bed, but he does fulfill the criteria laid down by Brecht who suggests that Mackheath should be a “short, stocky man of about 40”. What Kinnear may lack in sexual magnetism, he more than makes up for in his acting and vocal ability and is the perfect unemotional psychopath.
There are plenty more noteworthy cast members, not least Nick Holder’s corrupt Peachum, another member of London’s criminal fraternity who runs the city’s beggars. Horrified on discovering that the sinister Macheath has married his daughter, Polly, he is determined to wreak revenge. The rotund and dandyish Holder is dressed as a grotesque, complete with heels and black wig, whilst his wife, Celia, a deliciously over the top Haydn Gwynne, is clad head to toe in a clingy red dress, the perfect vamp. The vocals from Rosalie Craig as the sharp-witted and canny Polly, Debbie Kurup’s Lucy Brown, Polly’s main rival for Mackie’s affections and Sharon Small’s drug addicted prostitute, Jenny Diver are all spot on.
Vicky Mortimer has designed a set within a set, comprising flimsy movable screens and scaffolding, easily demolished and depicting the insecure lives these poor unfortunates are forced to endure. Their existence is neither cheery nor sunny.
That’s not to say that The Threepenny Opera is all doom and gloom. There are many laughs in this vulgar satire that cocks a snook at various modern social ills, and the casting of the disabled and speech-impaired actor Jamie Beddard as Matthias, aka The Shadow is inspired.
Whilst there were a couple of moments during Act I when I doubted my attention could be held for the entire play, Act II more than lived up to expectations. Rufus Norris is onto a winner with this unusual and exuberant musical that mixes cabaret with jazz and delights and shocks in equal measure. And let’s not forget Musical Director David Shrubsole, whose use of an eight-piece band, in action on stage rather than an orchestra pit ensures that the songs propel the action perfectly.