Brecht’s Threepenny Opera at the National is as sleazy and satirical as it ever was

Words Pendle Harte

The Olivier’s ambitious new production of Brecht’s classic Threepenny Opera is a great success. Granted, Brecht is never going to provide a cheery night out but this is a riotous new vision of the Weimar classic. Visually, it’s dark and grotesque, circus and burlesque meeting Edwardian poverty and squalour in the East End.

The Threepenny Opera, Olivier
HAYDN GWYNNE (Mrs Peachum) and NICK HOLDER (Mr Peachum)

Haydn Gwynne is an uncannily exact replica of Otto Dix’s Woman with Red Hair, and her horrible gangland husband is a creepy vision in high heels and a sneer. There’s quite a lot of violence, some of it theatrical, all reams of red ribbon as blood, and some of it actually shocking (cover your ears for the finger breaking scene) – and the entire set up eerily echoes the inequality of present-day London (there’s even a Brexit quip).

And then there’s the music. Mack the Knife, the show’s best tune, is brilliantly dealt with in the opening scene with a remarkable performance by George Ikediashi, whose deep voice booms through the ballard. Rosalie Craig as Polly has a voice that’s as wonderful as the play is dark and spiky.

The Threepenny Opera, Olivier
The Threepenny Opera, Olivier
ROSALIE CRAIG (Polly Peachum)

Rufus Norris’s show is a lavishly visual spread, with wonderful costumes and Brechtian signage (there’s a box labelled ‘drugs’, an envelope labelled ‘envelope’ and boxes labelled ‘props’) and the play’s darkness and plain weirdness hasn’t softened in the slightest since its first outing in Berlin almost 90 years ago.

The Threepenny Opera continues until 1 October.


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