Norris’s production of The Threepenny Opera is fantastically ugly: Brecht’s London is full of vagrants and harlots, a truly Dickensian bunch, motivated primarily by greed and lust, looking to use the upcoming coronation for self-promotion. Chief among the scum is Mack the Knife, portrayed by the wonderful Rory Kinnear, who plays the role with a plosive patois and plenty of cockney braggadocio.
The beginning of production is an absolute delight, it is full of malevolent energy and comic touches – credit to the stage and costume design (Vicki Mortimer). The Balladeer (George Ikediashi) introduces the production, ridiculing the idea of morality in theatre, which sets the tone for the evening. The cast tramps onto the stage, deliberately unenthused, offering us scenes that resemble Hogarth’s Gin Lane: murder, lechery – they are stripped of autonomy, trapped by giant Brechtian labels: “ALCOHOLICS”, “LUNATICS”, “WAR VETERANS” and “ABUSED CHILDREN” to name a few.
The action kicks off with Mack marrying Polly Peachum (Rosalie Craig). The darling couple descend to the stage on a smiling crescent moon. They are having sex, which looks rather uncomfortable for Polly. He grunts to her “ow!”: it is obvious that Mack possesses a delusional confidence in his own ability. The post-coital moment is very far from a traditional sort of nuptial bliss. Mack then gives Polly a wedding gift of red and black heeled boots, which is a tainted symbol of their relationship, clashing with the white of her dress: innocence has no place in this world.
Monogamy is a rather alien concept to Mack: Mrs Peachum, Polly’s constantly inebriated mother, has a history with him, as do many others. She stumbles around the stage in a drunken stupor, wearing a tight crimson dress, as wrinkled as the skin underneath, postured like a hideous parody of a Greek nude. It is apparent that Mack has left a trail of broken women, of which Jenny Diver is the most visually disturbed, looking like “spat out milk”: raccoon eye make-up, garish striped stockings, and a shock of ginger hair. Her interior is similarly tattered. Her drug addiction, a coping mechanism for her wretched life, is tragically mocked: she is persuaded by Mrs Peachum to give up information on Mack, rather easily, in exchange for a canister marked simply as “DRUGS”, which she takes and huffs using a gas mask. Here is a sad sight of two defeated women.
Nick Holder is absolutely perfect for the role of Mr Peachum: the rotund leader of a labour force of faceless beggars, earning the sobriquet the “Beggar’s Friend”. Mr Peachum looks like a diabolical Grayson Perry, with drag queen make-up and a flapper-style wig, prompting Jenny Diver to say at one point: “What the fuck is that?!” He embodies the role well and just looking at him is a joy.
The musical numbers work fine, like a depraved version of Les Misérables, and the live orchestra, moving around onstage rather than hidden in a pit, is a nice addition. Norris’s production is very well-executed and visually impressive, with a good choice of cast: definitely worth a ticket!
- Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill in collaboration with Elisabeth Hauptmann (adapted by Simon Stephens)
- Director: Rufus Norris
- Cast includes: George Ikediashi, Rory Kinnear, Nick Holder, Haydn Gwynne, Rosalie Craig, Peter de Jersey, Sharon Small, Debbie Kurup
- National Theatre, London
- Until 1st October 2016
- Review by Nick Potter
- 20 August 2016