For anyone who’s done GCSE drama, the name Brecht will inevitably conjure up a fight or flight response. I feel mine kicking in the moment I see a placard held up, detailing exactly what will happen in the next scene. Oh no, I think, it’s returning. Before that instinct has a chance to fully take hold, the curtains open on a tableau of London, and I’m struck with the thought: this is how it’s supposed to be done.
Yes, Brecht, the often feared practitioner, has actually become enjoyable here. He’s even become funny. The whole production is at its best when it is relentlessly silly – cameos from toy cars, red ribbons of blood, and a flurry of pink silk dressing-gowns accompany a whole host of weird and wonderful characters, differentiated through some skilful expression and character tics. Mr and Mrs Peachum (Marcus Knight-Adams and Ella Tournes respectively) steal the show completely in their allotted scenes, and the ensemble work effectively but unobtrusively throughout. The show does have some much-needed quiet moments, and these are handled effectively – Emelye Moulton’s rendition of ‘Pirate Jenny’ and Eoghan McNelis’ end-game deterioration are memorable examples; but it is undoubtedly the moments of upbeat energy which carry the performance forward, striking the slightly absurd note this production aims for.
The show makes full use of the proscenium staging offered by the Playhouse, creating a sense of scale and theatricality with multi-levelled staging and a star-spangled backdrop. Particular mention must go to Cherona Chapman’s lighting design, where sharp, bold colours and a harsh spotlight switch the tone on a whim. Similarly, Christina Hill’s set design also manages to fill the stage and to keep that particular sense of absurd minimalism alive and well – with movable prison bars, and an ensemble which watches from the gallery.
This production has wisely done away with the more bizarre aspects of Brechtian style, instead choosing particular elements which work on stage and keep the whole thing flowing. It’s not overly pretentious or art for art’s sake, and there are some unusual creative ultimatums – including changing the ending, a move which I found curiously effective. The length is likely to put many people off, standing at two hours and forty-five minutes with an interval, but the production appears determined to operate at its own pace – there’s no sense of rushing. Although the approach of the semi-inevitable finale does begin to drag, it’s almost refreshing to see a show which takes its time, making the most of both comedic and dramatic pauses. The Threepenny Opera manages to capture that rarest of things – a highly-studied piece which still manages to be an enjoyable watch. What could be more impressive than that?