You may remember Rory Kinnear performing a truly ‘#Snoutrageous’ act for Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror or being someone in MI6 in some Bond film. In Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera at The National Theatre, directed by Rufus Norris with a new translation by Simon Stephens, Kinnear plays antihero Macheath who marries Polly Peachum (Rebecca Brewer) while her parents (Nick Holder and Haydn Gwynne) want him hanged.
This production is very rude, very funny and full of unlikable characters. I had trouble even liking Polly, and Brecht does stress that she be virtuous and agreeable in his stage directions. This, of course, is a key intention in Brecht’s theatre. If an audience is too heavily invested in characters and find themselves identifying emotionally with them they can become passive in their spectatorship. To see theatre that isn’t comfortable is to be reminded that drama is constructed. This acknowledgement provides a way to look at theatre politically and to analyse the art form. Believe me I was absolutely forced to know I was watching a play: the actors shout ‘SCENE CHANGE!’ and a box with ‘BIG RED FLAG FOR SCENE 7’ is wheeled on stage providing a lot of ‘spass’ and laughter.
There is cross dressing and a diverse casting including Jamie Beddard who has Cerebral Palsy as Mattius – reminding us of the importance of representing disability in theatre. I loved Debbie Kurup’s Lucy Brown and both her and Brewer show their incredible voices in their spat together. The rest of the cast – including our boy Kinnear – sing excellently, however, more could have been made of ‘Mac the Knife.’ It’s such a notable song and you can’t help but think of Ella Fitzgerald’s Grammy winning version.
The East London setting is enjoyable, especially if you live around those ends (there are a fair few jokes about Shadwell – is it really that bad?!) and Mattius’ humorous quick wheel around the stage with a big sign such as ‘The Savoy’ lets you know where you are. Although the staging may perhaps be too simple, there is incredible machinery that at one point actually spins to reveal a gaping hole.
Is Brecht boring and slow if he just tells you what’s going to happen? Of course there were moments when I did start wondering about popcorn for the interval, but this preconceived idea of tedious Brechtian theatre does not apply to this production. Yes, Brecht wanted to slash theatre up but he certainly wanted fun and this is what Norris gives us.