Review: The Threepenny Opera at the Octagon Theatre Bolton 


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Music Kurt Weill. Book by Bertolt Brecht. Lyrics Bertolt Brecht. Producer Octagon Theatre. Presented by University of Bolton. Director David Thacker.
In a world run by beggars, thieves, crooks and prostitutes (represented by bankers, politicians and the Establishment in this production) the only way to survive is violence and cruelty.
Criminal ringleader Macheath has secretly married the daughter of the ruler of the beggars and his many wives, girlfriends and prostitutes have to decide whether they are better off with or without him. Everyone betrays everyone else as there can be no loyalty amongst the downtrodden. Macheath`s seductive journey through Brecht`s Threepenny underworld highlights the gender issues and conflicts in addition to the more obvious class struggles as he attempts to skilfully sidestep justice.

In an almost Shakespearean twist, the weather on the day the reviewer attended the production had been dark and unsettling with a blood red sun and imminent hurricane – it set the tone perfectly for this dark dystopian tale!
This production has been very carefully planned and developed. Whilst at first glance appearing very far from it; on reflection it is a true heir to Brecht’s original concept for a chilling indictment of the current political and moral environment. The cast acts as a deeply unsettling moral mirror of contemporary society and it’s mores and the audience is left to ponder their own attitudes and beliefs.
David Birrell as Macheath, is a charming, chilling sociopath who seems to positively relish his detached attitudes to humanity, without any iota of conscience. MacHeath reflects the very worst of contemporary business and amoral society. Everything is about ego and self gain and Birrell portrays this magnificently. He is totally believable.
Eric Potts as Mr Peachum, also reflects the current Establishment’s attitude towards the less fortunate in society; regarding them solely as units to be employed in the pursuit of his personal profit. Deeply cynical and in ways, just as evil as MacHeath, because he is actually aware of the effects of his actions. Excellent performance from the seemingly avuncular Potts at the start to the seedy cold cynic ‘who speedily appears’
Sue Devaney as Mrs Peachum, represents all that is lionised by the current trend in society for celebrity. All is surface appearance and total self absorption. Almost an amalgam caricature of the various ‘Cheshire Housewives/Footballers Wives’ lifestyle, Devaney brings some much needed light relief to this chilling tale.
Anna Wheatley as Polly Peachum starts out as a representation of all that is fatuous and insubstantial. Hilarious in her portrayal of an immature naive spoilt, neglected child, who, through the course of the production comes to gain self respect and a realisation that she has worth and value. Her physical and comic acting skills are extremely good especially her twerking!
Robert Jackson as Tiger Brown is a man, who we are guided to believe in this production, is deeply in love with MacHeath and whose every professional action regarding the object of his affection, is informed by that obsession. A weak, vain, and avaricious character, easily swayed, who has no moral compass, but who changes with the company he keeps.

Martina Isibor as Pirate Jenny is one of the few characters that we can perhaps feel any sympathy for as a victim who has managed to survive the abuse meted out to her from an early age. Isobar’s voice is phenomenal and her stage presence compelling.
Roby Ablett as Lucy, ably portrayed a member of the ‘Chelsea Set’ and again like Jenny, is a character more sinned against than sinning.
Natasha Lewis, Richard Colvin, Samuel Martin and Steve Simmonds as MacHeath’s gang all gave very convincing and enjoyable performances, – it would have been interesting to see their characters developed more fully, however in a production this long, it is understandable that it may not have been possible.
The ALRA students were an integral part of the cast and played their rôles perfectly.
The music in the production was excellent with many members of the cast also playing instruments as part of the show’s band. It is a testament to theirs’ and the Musical Director Carol Sloman’s versatility and professionalism that it seems entirely natural and believable- one of the most enjoyable parts of this production.

One slight comment is that sometimes the band overpowered the singing, this however can easily be remedied.
The stage set was ingenious with the clever use of “abbatoir” curtains covered in graffiti which only showed up when lit in a certain way.
The use of an electronic ‘tickertape’ throughout the performance was an inspired development from projection devices used in previous historical productions. It set the scenes and provided information in the manner in which the modern audience is used to receiving their news – in sound bites at the bottom of a news screen, often very amusinglywith contemporary references.
I enjoyed the production very much and recommend it to anyone over the age of 15, due to the use of offensive language and adult themes of murder and sexual abuse.
The Threepenny Opera is running at The Octagon Theatre Bolton until Sat 4 November 2017 with a special Investigate day on Saturday 28th October. For more information and to book tickets click HERE

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