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National Theatre: The Threepenny Opera (Cert:15)
23 September
7:15 pm to 10:15 pm

The Threepenny Opera: A snarling, sexy beast of a show!

Rory Kinnear quips and charms his way through the role of Macheath

“You’ve got to fake it to seem real,” Peachum tells a snivelling beggar who has newly entered his employment. This snarling, sexy beast of a show has an elaborate pedigree: Simon Stephens has retooled avant garde dramatist Brecht’s adaptation of John Gay’s 18th century ballad opera. But these layers of artifice feel refreshingly straightforward in an authentically foul vision of London’s corrupt underbelly.

At the play’s heart, Macheath (he of ballad-turned-jazz standard “Mack the Knife”) is a charming murderer with a sharp blade in his pocket. Rory Kinnear quips and charms his way through the role, his charisma more than compensating for the fact he looks about as sexy as a banker at his daughter’s wedding. Both women and men fall in line: including Polly, daughter of Peachum, who runs a local begging racket. But her parents are far from thrilled, and they lay plans for him to meet his maker.

Director Rufus Norris’s rough and ready approach mixes tatty Victoriana with jazz with a ramshackle live band. This DIY aesthetic could have been easily lost in the huge, barn-like Olivier, but he crowds the action to the front of the stage that teems with chaotic life and silliness. And Simon Stephens’s lean adaptation scrubs the text clean of superfluous speeches or muddied plots, without erasing Brecht’s grubby thumbprints. Every artifice is revealed and highlighted. Vicki Mortimer’s endlessly flexible design is made up of a series of paper-thin stage flats, which actors burst through to make their entrances. And props are labelled in bold white capitals: Mrs Peachum brandishes a tin emblazoned with ‘DRUGS’, and sprays her drunken vomit from an all-too-visible tube.

This is a play with songs, rather than a musical. But even so, Rosalie Craig’s performance as Polly is almost unhelpfully good – in “Pirate Jenny” she alternates between sweetness and raucous fury as she imagines commanding pirates to wreak equally sweet vengeance on the sexist men around her. Other cast members struggle to hold the audience, tackling challenging songs with more vigour than finesse.

But then again, vigour is what this production is all about. It’s a filthy hymn to the power of Macheath’s cock – and to the way that sex, charisma and money can utterly corrupt a broken society. Its climax doesn’t absolve a single character from naked self interest – in this vision of a corrupt London no one, not even Macheath, is let off the hook.

Ticket Price: Adults £12.50 | 15 and under £7.50 

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