The Threepenny Opera | Review
The Lyric Theatre • Thursday 31 January ’18
By Ciara Conway
From 27 January to 10 February the Lyric Theatre Belfast plays host to Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera (1928) – an apt choice for Walter Sutcliffe’s directorial premiere with Northern Ireland Opera. Based on John Gay’s 1728 ballad opera, The Beggar’s Opera – a social satire of poverty and politics in eighteenth-century London, Brecht and Weill not only ruffled feathers in Berlin’s Weimar Republic but created an overwhelmingly successful piece of theatre. Sutcliffe’s production captures the timeless theme of contemporary societal corruption that does not outrage the audience’s political conscious, but rather subsumes them in the musical and dramatic prowess onstage.
The creative team deserves a firm pat on the back for its clever use of space. The stage has been transformed into a large stairway with two platforms – one in the middle and one at the top with trapdoors and sliding backdrops. This minimalist setting is well complemented by the arrival of the musicians onstage. Clad in candy stripe suits and straw boater hats, they take their positions either side of the large stairway and nicely frame the onstage action for the entirety of the evening. Costume designer Dorota Karolczak provides an eclectic sense of theatricality, placing the action in an indeterminate epoch somewhere between a Gatsby-esque 1920s glamour and our own world of obsessive material culture, most prevalent in Matthew Cavan’s Mrs Peachum. Mark Dugdale presents a young, glamourous Macheath whose alluring tones seduce the audience who in no time find themselves on the side of the ever-loved anti-hero. Jayne Wisener’s Polly, Brigid Shine’s Lucy, and Kerri Quinn’s Jenny all make for fine contenders in the Macheathean quest. Smooth scene transitions, choreographed numbers and character chemistry throughout the production, particularly that of the Peachums, allow for the steadily paced plot progression that makes for most enjoyable watching. However, the quality of the production rests on the band’s musical performance. Under the baton of Sinead Hayes, together they do Weill’s score the justice it deserves. The vehemence in which the Army Song is introduced, its subsequent unravelling with vocals by Macheath and Tiger Brown accompanied by the riding of decapitated horses in the background, makes for the most ponderous of scenes. A personal favourite.
When considering The Threepenny Opera’s landmark status as a social satire of poverty and political corruption, surprising is the lack of topical and contemporary issues alluded to throughout the production – for example, the homeless crisis, gay marriage rights, or the repeal referendum down south. However, one cannot deny that Sufcliffe succeeds in creating a limbo-like temporality where tyranny is still at the heart of society’s decay. Sutcliffe has a few tricks up his sleeve that no doubt will be played accordingly as he settles into production life with the company. And, hopefully, the appearance of local performers will remain a philosophy grounded in Sutcliffe’s productions going forward! The Threepenny Opera runs until 10 February at the Lyric Theatre. I strongly recommend you check it out.