Inspired by John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, this anarchic masterpiece delves into the Soho underworld and the exploits of Macheath, a notorious criminal and womaniser.
Filch / Bob
Robert Leop Macfarlane
Claire Marie Seddon
The Threepenny Opera pulls you constantly in two different directions. It is exuberant entertainment that is self-conscious in its theatricality. And yet there is also real fury running through this piece. (“For once you must try not to shirk the facts: Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts.”)
So there are times when you can be extremely playful in your complicity with the audience (our jail had no bars – Macheath could have stepped out of his cell at any point), and then there are other times when you need to strip away all pretension. During “What Keeps Mankind Alive?”, Mrs Peachum tore off her wig, and the cast stepped forward until they were just a foot or two from the audience, challenging them directly with their eyes.
At the outset of the performance, meat hooks dangled from ropes around the stage. During the overture, these rose out of sight. But with the closing ballad, the meat hooks descended again as all the lights blazed. One by one, the performers stopped playing the music, put their instruments down, and walked over to a meat hook. Then they attached the meat hook to the scruff of their neck and, with a sigh, slumped so that their body hung from the hook, lifeless. Each time this happened, a light would flick out.
Gradually the sound dissipated, and the stage grew darker. The final instrument cut out when there was just one bulb still glowing… and nineteen bodies were left swaying in the silence.