The Threepenny Opera – Graeae Theatre Company

Graeae Theatre Company. "Threepenny Opera"

 

“SEX, VIOLENCE, DRUNKENNESS, BAWDY HUMOUR AND SOME CRACKING SONGS … ALL THE THINGS WE LOVE SO MUCH!”

Review by Paul Monkhouse

What, you may ask, is a review of a MUSICAL doing on the esteemed pages of Words and Music? Well, if your idea of musicals is something like Les Miserables (much better than the film), Grease (the film is much better than the musical) or even We Will Rock You (the band is much better than the musical) or, Heaven forbid, the truly awful Mamma Mia (the band is much better than either the musical or the appalling film)… then think again! Neither is it an opera, despite the title, but it has the style and bile so beloved of great artists such as Ian Dury and as such is a rare and fascinating feast.  Also … you, dear reader, obviously have both the class and intelligence to appreciate something a little different, something with superb lyrics and a superb musical score. Words and music … both sublime and THAT is what this site is called and is so passionate about.

This isn’t just a production line West End show, with performances and emotions done by rote, but a living, breathing piece of musical theatre which (I feel) is possibly going to be one of the very finest and most unique shows that you’ll ever see. Full of fantastic songs, amazing performances, brilliantly simple staging and a heart that beats hard and true, this has much more of a rock/punk spirit and mixes not only social satire/commentary but a touch of Music Hall and a real, rebellious and righteous (in the best possible sense) core.

Graeae Theatre Company always brings a troupe that deftly incorporates both able bodied and disabled actors and musicians, all perfectly cast. In fact, the matching of The Threepenny Opera with Graeae is an absolutely perfect fit, giving the piece a reality and resonance that has an awful lot of both passion and compassion. Extraordinary, challenging and inspiring are just three words that start to describe their astounding adaption of the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill classic. Once again, the company have put on a show which is both wildly entertaining and breath-taking in its execution. Despite having been originally performed in 1928 and itself adapted from 18th-century English ballad opera, John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, the production is as bitingly relevant today as it was then.

Graeae Theatre Company  "The Threepenny Opera" - CiCi Howells as Polly Peacham and Ben Goofe as Jake

CiCi Howells as Polly Peacham and Ben Goofe as Jake

Diving straight into the dark underbelly of London’s underworld we meet a motley selection of criminals, prostitutes and corrupt policemen, all of whose lives intertwine as they conspire to thrive and survive as the capitol prepares for a royal coronation. When the notorious and brutal criminal Macheath marries Polly, the only daughter of ‘King of the Beggars’ Mr Peacham, the latter plots to deal with Mac once and for all by any means possible. There follows a tale full of sex, violence, drunkenness, bawdy humour and some cracking songs … all the things we love so much! With brilliant staging and a superb score featuring standards like ‘Mack the Knife’ and ‘Pirate Jenny’, The Threepenny Opera is a treat for the ears and eyes. To say too much of the plot and visual effects would spoil the surprises and is, quite frankly, lazy journalism. Rest assured though that you’ll be both gripped by the story and equally amused and surprised by the graphics.

Milton Lopes oozes a heady mix of charming charisma and danger as crime-lord Macheath, his voice having a ‘certain something’ in its gravel and unique accenting that proves irresistible to both those characters onstage and the audience off of it. Acting honours are arguably stolen by the always brilliant Garry Robson, whose Mr Peacham conveys even more cunning and manipulation than the Fagin-like character he first appears (also without the latter’s vaguely anti-Semitic overtones). As Mrs Peacham, Victoria Oruwari plays her character with a little more broad humour but there is most certainly steel behind her act and she has a beautiful singing voice. In other lead roles: Will Kenning (as corrupt Chief of Police Tiger Brown), Natasha Lewis (as Lucy Brown, one of Macheath’s more recent conquests) and Amelia Cavallo (as Jenny, Madam of the prostitutes and a key old flame of Macheath) are all outstanding, the latter having a particularly emotive and melodious voice. Special mention must go also to John Kelly, superb as the Narrator, always ready with a twinkle in his eye and a rough edged quip or two.

Graeae Theatre Company  "The Threepenny Opera" - Milton Lopes as Macheath and CiCi Howells as Polly Peacham

Milton Lopes as Macheath and CiCi Howells as Polly Peacham

For me though, one of the biggest revelations was the amazing CiCi Howells as Polly Peacham. Having seen her in the very physical but silent role of Cat in the New Wolsey Theatre panto (true!) at Christmas I had no idea of the voice she was holding down within herself. When she let rip, it was pure, gutsy, ‘rock chick’ with enough fire and emotion to strip the varnish off of the seating and set fire to the beer taps in the bar. Don’t get me wrong, there was pure animal passion there but also a subtleness and wellspring of delicate sentiment that gave her performance real colour. Rather ironically, it is Jude Mahon, who acts and sings who leaves another huge impression. ‘Ironically’ in that her main role as Sign Language interpreter is absolutely magnetic but almost always silent. It’s an eye opening revelation to see her sign some very suggestive lyrics in a way that’s even more explicit but beautifully poetic, physically speaking. Her shadowing the movements of Polly in ‘Barbara Song’ (known colloquially by the cast as ‘Knickers’ (sic)) is absolutely stunning.

It is a necessary evil of reviewing a show to mention certain people but truly, there isn’t a member of the superb twenty-strong cast who doesn’t get their moment in the spotlight and from the leads to the ‘supporting’ actors all the performances are uniformly excellent.

There is so much to see and hear in the show that it’s definitely worth seeing it more than once to take it all in. Visually arresting and packing a huge punch, directors Jenny Sealey and Peter Rowe have created a show that HAS to be seen.

You can see The Threepenny Opera at:

Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Dates: 27 March -12 April
Tickets: £15.50 – £27.50
Tickets on sale now: www.birmingham-rep.co.uk

West Yorkshire Playhouse
Dates: 24 April – 10 May
Tickets: From £12
Tickets on sale now: http://www.wyp.org.uk

 

Graeae Theatre Company  "The Threepenny Opera" - Garry Robson as Mr.Peacham

Garry Robson as Mr.Peacham

 

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