Photo: Matthew Thompson
Gate Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival
Oct 1-Nov 2
My review of The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill coming up just as soon as I sing a ballad in which I beg all men for forgiveness ...
"It's a question of give and take. Think about it."
- Macheath, aka. Mac The Knife
It's all a case of give and take in The Threepenny Opera as beggars, whores and criminals try to shake some sense from the conundrum that is life in a capitalist society. We start with the wretched Mr. Peachum, a businessman who issues beggars licences permitting them to beg in certain territories of the city, and exploits them by taking shares of the money they make as a service cost. In return, he's given a dangerous new son-in-law in the notorious crime lord Macheath, who takes (or steals) people's possessions in some personal Bohemia. In return for his new bride, Macheath is given a deadly adversary in the prostitute Low Dive Jenny, a vengeful ex-lover and possible key to his downfall. On and on the pennies roll until they land on us, the audience, the ultimate players in this opera, who Bertolt Brecht has complete faith in to change reality for the best.
The Gate's production of this anti-capitalist satire, conceived by Brecht and Kurt Weill within the massive class gap of Weimar Germany, has obvious resonance for an Irish audience today. "What is robbing a bank compared to founding a bank?", rings one strain.
In the past, director Wayne Jordan's overuse of glossy stage images has come at the expense of the naturalism of character but it works here for Brecht's purposes to keep the audience emotionally distanced from characters so as to retain a critical objectivity. Similarly, musical director Cathal Synott stays true to Weill's jazz-inspired score, laying out dirty brass and crass lyrics. "Shit on you!". "Shit on you too!", sing the leads in The Jealousy Duet.
The production keeps moving thanks to Philip Connaughton's chic choreography and Ciarán O'Melia's sparse set design, which reveals and conceals an eight-piece band and leaves open ground for actors to move. David Ganly is one heck of a charming lead as Mac The Knife, and Ruth McGill twitches comically as Lucy Brown, yet another of the crook's exes. There is a fantastic performance from Hilda Fay as the prostitute Low Dive Jenny, who is somehow both gentle and brutal in a thorny ballad casting revenge against the male species with an eight-sailed ship filled with gunpowder. There is no flat note to this dynamite ensemble, whose sass and operatic vocals bring glamour to the grit of this musical theatre milestone.
Historically it sits, with its smutty script and prickly music score, on the eve of destruction, before the rise of the Nazis. But over the years it hasn't lost its power, as this kinetic production of The Threepenny Opera gives us a smart kick in the teeth, leaving us grimacing with a question: how much will our society give and take before it explodes?