07 March 2016

Aware of the little known

We all know Mack the Knife, and many know it's from Threepenny Opera. Canberra Rep is presenting TO now and we got along. I was apprehensive when I realised it was 3 hours long with two short intervals. And based on opera, although this is more musical theatre. A musical friends had seen it and said it was strange or weird. Certainly, it was unusual not Broadway, but neither is it non-Western. It's political, from the Weimar Republic era in Germany, after WW1, subject to reparations, preceding Depression then Hitler. And it's a strange mix of eras. The program notes "interesting challenge, with today's Australian actors; representing 1928 Berlin beggars; impersonating 1837 Victorian English exploiters and the exploited; based on the 1728 original Ballad Opera" but observes that there's a similarity in the eras including "to our time of an ever growing between the rich and the poor, and literally millions of displaced people searching for succour". The story is of a battle between Peachum, leader of the London street beggars, and Macheath (Mack the Knife), leader of the thieves and cad, but it's also recounts the centrality of women. It's all unlikely but entertaining and fairly easy to follow. The musical interludes are consistently satisfying, wily, politically-rich. There were some decent singers here, classically or theatre-trained and I could mostly follow the lyrics. The stage is open and unadorned, the fully-acoustic band (nonet?) appears on a raiser behind, sheets are run in for a screen at various times, a street singer introduces the work with talk and the famed theme, Mack the Knife, and consistently loiters. Almost as consistent is the capability of the women and the occasional capability of the men. Macheath himself is terribly well played and sung, if an unadmirable cad in the plot. Peachum is fabulously played and very cluey. His wife, Mrs, has a liking for gin, but is hugely capable when dry and a capable soprano. Their daughter, Polly, has the hots for Macheath (not the only women in his retinue) and their marriage is the source of the Peachums' revenge plot, but she comes onside with the family as Mack reveals his ways. Mack has an old Brit-Army-in-India mate, Tiger Brown, now Chief Inspector as Scotland Yard, who has been protecting the thief. Eventually Mack is revealed, gaoled, escapes, gaoled again and almost hung, then unexpectedly reprieved. No claim is made for probability and characters talk openly of this and the background politics of it all. This is Berthold Brecht lyrics and Kurt Weill music, so the total is clever, non-conformist and relevant. Some quotes: “What is robbing a bank compared to founding one?”, "Though the rich of this earth find no difficulty in creating misery, they can't bear to see it", "The law was made for one thing alone, for the exploitation of those who don't understand it" and this essential one "Grub first, then ethics". This was a witty piece of musical theatre from some great writers with a political conscience and done very capably by our longlife local company, Canberra Rep. Congrats and very much enjoyed.

Canberra Rep presented Threepenny Opera by Bertholt Brecht with music by Kurt Weill. Key performers were Tim Sekuless (Macheath), Peter Dark (Mr Peachum), Sarahlouise Owens (Mrs Peachum), Tina Robinson (Polly Peachum) and Jim Adamik (Tiger Brown). The band was the Threepenny Pits comprising Kristen Nilsson and Caleb Ball (reeds), Fatzana Choudhury, Keydan Bruse and Elaine Johnson (trumpets), Jack Adolph )trombone), Peter McDonald (tuba), Gabe Trew (drums), John Yoon (piano) and Ewan (harmonium).

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