The Threepenny Opera

15/09/17

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill would doubtless have approved of Attic Collective’s version of their infamous master work. From the faked technical problem in the opening minutes through to the battalions of cast members made to ride exercise bicycles throughout the three hour show (as though attempting to power it up), everything has been done to accentuate the artifice of the production – a key Brechtian device.

But up on the massive stage of the King’s Theatre, the Verfremdungseffekt this produces is perhaps a little too pronounced for the play’s own good. The antics of the performers seem dwarfed in such a setting and the sparse lighting effects employed  make us feel like we’re observing it all from a distance – as though we’re watching through binoculars turned the wrong way around. The moment when the fourth wall is completely shattered and a group of prostitutes install themselves in the King’s famous boxes, exchanging lines over the heads of the audience is, for me at least, a standout scene.

Notorious villain MacHeath (a suitably swaggering performance by Charlie West) marries Polly Peachum (Kirsty Benton), much to the chagrin of her parents (Max Reid and Hannah Bradley), who decide that it’s high time their new son-in-law is taken down a peg or two – by the liberal application of a hangman’s noose. And as it turns out, MacHeath has quite a few embarrassing skeletons in his closet, not least the existence of another bride whom he’s completely forgotten to mention, plus several very close companions up at the local brothel…

There are some lovely performances here. Benton’s turn as Polly is particularly impressive and Reid plays Mr Peachum with bombastic glee. I would love to see this in a more intimate setting, where I might become a bit more swept up in the action (less Brechtian perhaps, but, I suspect, more satisfying for an audience). It’s nonetheless a creditable effort from the enthusiastic young cast, who deliver a raucous and audacious evening’s entertainment. If it’s not quite up there with last production Lysistrata, still they give this everything they’ve got, and it’s definitely worth seeking out.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

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