“Nothing too avant-garde, operatic or political”, demanded the German nightclub owners in the early 1930s, when a new theatre show was proposed- a satire on the state of the nation, with ever-changing titles, and a revolving-door of disgruntled cast members with prima donna attitudes.
But that was perhaps expecting too much. The writer was one Bertolt Brecht, the high-minded morally conscious visionary who changed the way theatre was perceived forever, breaking down barriers of taste, subject matter and the fourth wall. And the play, derided by some, understood by many more, was future classic The Threepenny Opera.When jobbing actor Lotte Lenya burst onto the scene, she added a new kind of female voice: raw, gutsy and full of ire. Writer/director Morag Fullarton focuses on Lenya’s burgeoning relationship with Brecht’s friend, songwriter Kurt Weill,another principled individual unafraid to speak his mind in troubled times (the threat of Nazism looming ahead).
The cast excel.Angela Darcy as Lenya is sweet but outspoken,a fine performance even if her fantastic voice feels too ‘modern’ for 30s Berlin. Harry Ward makes a warm, loving Weill, supporting his new wife in spite of all the attendant cliches of anyone struggling in a harsh industry. T’was ever thus. Jimmy Chisholm and George Drennan camp it up in a number of roles besides, respectively, sleazy leading man Kurt Gerron and a brooding Brecht.
The ubiquity of Kurt Gerron’s song Mack the Knife meanwhile, comes as an ironic standing joke- the jaunty melody hiding brutal lyrics about Brecht’s villain Macheath (a rapist and murderer) is seemingly stuck on repeat. But this inability to break free appears to be a comment on how Gerron, a Jewish actor, failed to escape both the Nazis and his most famous role. Anti-Semitism is the most ugly song aired here.
Allusions to evil aside, it’s otherwise mostly played for laughs, until the party stops.All the cinematic trademarks of Fullarton’s work are stamped on this production : noirish lights; industry in-jokes,the cast in a rigid freeze-frame, and (true to Brechtian form) mocked-up placards for rehearsal gossip and other scene transitions. But it all seems too polite for a show dealing in the darkest period of Germany’s history, until the jarringly brutal finale.
Photos by Leslie Black
At Oran Mor until June 18th. Part of the Mini Musicals season.