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Three Penny Opera


The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht

Performed by TADS

Direction – Oonagh Hughes

Brecht is not for the fainthearted. However no one should be put off having a go. The main thing to remember is that the work is political and it is supposed to be satirical and funny. Brecht’s work is also storytelling and it is very important that we the audience get the story which is why you have all the narration at the beginning of every scene. If you’re struggling to know what is going on then you will struggle to be entertained, educated and enlightened, which arguably was Brecht’s intention.

I think this production came into its own in the second half. In the first half I was struggling to know what was going on.

The opening song would have been helped by visually setting up the shop and seeing what the shop was a front for, and maybe some sort of storytelling sequence seeing Mackie creeping into Polly’s room, and Mrs Peachum organising the workforce. I think the temptation to go into a Fosse-style opening number works against the material, however well done (which it was).

The attempts to modernise need to go much further in my opinion, or you need to leave it in the era it was written for. Brecht would have undoubtedly favoured looking at low income groups in a modernisation but he would not have baulked at your attempts to have Mackie as a ’ finanacial adviser’ - the shark in sheep’s clothing, so to speak. You could have had Peachum as a defective drug dealer with several ‘hoodie-clad’ youths dependent on him, begging on the streets at every available opportunity. What I am saying is, I felt you needed to be braver and work against your ideas in the programme note to modernise for the sake of it but modernise and be damned.

However, you captured the unpleasantness of Mackie and his world in the wedding scene and his irresistible charm to the three women in his life. What I liked about this is that it did make me question what on earth these women saw in him if he was so unpleasant; but I did believe that they were completely obsessed with him even if, as Jenny did, one of them tried to destroy him. Your production brought out the relationships between Mackie and the women strongly and effectively. The comment made through these relationships about men who need money, power and sex with several women is a critique of the capitalist greedy world; I think you got this across.

Stylistically you had lots of interesting things going on but I still think you could have been braver. The band is essential and Brecht’s roots are in cabaret hence the cabaret style. I would have preferred the band on stage and not half hidden.

The engaging moment when Jenny came into the audience was something you could have capitalised on much more during the production. Using the auditorium breaks that fourth wall and brings the audience into the action. Your actors admirably faced out and engaged the audience to the best of their ability and there were some moments that were striking, particularly Macheath’s song at the end of the play. Bringing on actors through the auditorium could have created another dimension and developed your idea of bringing Jenny out from behind the proscenium arch.

The production elements were ably brought together by the Director and showed an experienced hand. My only concern was that sometimes the lighting was too shadowy; occasionally actors were completely in shadow and their faces could not be seen. I think the expressionistic style was right but just a little over done. I always say this in my reports and I worry that I am being patronising but I will say it again anyway - get out to see some great companies doing epic works such as this one, for example KAOS, the National Theatre, the RSC Shared Experience , Frantic Assembly. I think a great way to learn is to see loads of theatre.


Mack the Knife – Greg Aston

This was a tour de force performance. The aggression worked really well and the singing was really powerful. The characterisation was charismatic and rather interestingly this charisma replaced any real intelligence that Mack the Knife might have. Greg Aston found a great way to play what is after all a rather unpleasant character, and showed how charisma and violence are great assets in Mack the Knife’s world rather than talent and intelligence. Greg used the audience and my only comment would have been to take it out to them even more. Brecht’s work has more in common with stand up and cabaret than perhaps you would imagine.

Jeremiah Peachum – Geoff Guy

What a devilish performance and in only two weeks! Geoff Guy is to be congratulated on a very ‘weasely’ Peachum. The recitative delivery of Mack the Knife really worked. Geoff has a great voice and can find lots of tone. His relationship with the audience was effective and he seemed to play to them throughout which is definitely the right approach. A very good performance - my only comment would be to vary the delivery; use that great tone to change the pitch and pace.

Celia Peachum – Louise Toft

This was a very engaging performance. Louise Toft looked fantastic and sang really well to communicate this manipulative character. Mrs Peachum knows how to get things done and will stop at nothing to protect what’s hers. Her protection of her daughter was just another way to protect her assets and Louise communicated this really well.

Polly Peachum – Vicki Wagsatffe

Vicki Wagsatffe is super talented being both an actress and a musician. Her portrayal of Polly was spot on. I loved her simple adoration of Mack and her quick switch to being the boss of his empire was also skilfully done. Her singing was fabulous and vey Brechtian; her Pirate Jenny was great. I would have liked the director to bring her into the audience more - it would have developed another aspect of her performance.

Filch – Michelle Smart

Suitably down trodden and desperate; a good performance both physically and vocally.

Tiger Brown – Geoff Matthews

A brilliant duet with Mack. This portrayal showed the camaraderie built between two men who have fought in war together. Geoff really did appear to dote on Mack in that way that ‘best mates’ do. He managed to show some manly emotion over his capture which was quickly replaced by the emotions of someone capitalising on the expediency of the situation.

Lucy Brown – Michelle Smart

This is a great role for an actress to steal the show with arguably two of the best songs and great comedy. Michelle did a good job and found her feet with all the demands placed upon her. Her relationship with Polly is competitive and I liked the fight … this could have gone even further and continued throughout the song; however it was well played. I really did think that Mack was more enamoured with Lucy than Polly and Jenny which I’ve never thought about before. I’ve always seen productions where he either adores all of them equally or he is only using them equally. I think Michelle’s portrayal of passion brought the love out in him!

Smith - Tom Burgess

A solid performance and Brechtian which I liked. Showing the character rather than being the character. With Brecht you can almost feel as if the actor is standing to one side and presenting you with the role , no illusion making; Tom had those qualities

Reverend Kimball – Geoff Guy

Well done Geoff! You pulled off your original role really well. The Reverend was suitably ineffective and being used by Mackie. His physicality was so different to when he played Peachum I didn’t know it was Guy until I checked the programme.

Messenger – Sally Watson

The Deus Ex Machina. The mad moment in the play when Mackie is reprieved. Villains get away with it don’t they? Sally played this moment really well and rose to the occasion with this out of keeping costume to highlight the madness. You just have to perform your heart out which she did.

Jenny Diver – Debbie Lannen

Great costume! I loved the control Debbie had playing this character. She was able to tell the story of Mackie and her relationship with a sense of ‘don’t mess with me’ throughout. Mackie did seem rather scared of her. She danced a great tango and when she walked out to the audience and sang to us she was amazing! A lot of actors find this very scary. Personally I find directly working with the audience much more fun and you achieve a greater connection but it’s not to everyone’s taste. Debbie made the most of her moment. Well done.

Molly, Dolly, Betty and Coaxer - Jane Hughes, Maya Hughes, Gem Barlow, Kelly Portman

They worked well together and filled the stage with their presence which must happen when the scene changes to the brothel. When the set does not change the actors have to create change along with good lighting. The ‘whores’ did that really successfully.

Ready Money Matt – Jon Wagsatffe

A real sense of the friend who could you stab you in the back. Some great facial expressions that gave the message loud and clear that this character was not to be trusted. Good ensemble playing and good support in the song.

Crookfinger Jake – Richard Wood

A sense of seediness was well played and outrage at being led by a woman in the second act was achieved. Good ensemble work and very good support in the song.

Walt Dreary – Dann Williams

The ensemble worked and it is to the credit of all three actors that they were able to create distinctive characters. There was a sense of vulnerability as well which was well played.

The band

Richard Wood, Richard Hughes, Emma Stone, Sally Layland, Jane Hughes, Vicki Wagstaffe, Dann Williams.

A great achievement to put together this quite challenging score. A mixture of German cabaret and gentle mocking of more operatic styles can seem very off putting. I enjoyed the thrown together feel to it and I mean that as a compliment. The combination of instruments worked although a clarinet or sax would have been nice but you can’t have everything! Directorially this would have been even more effective if you had been out on the stage for all to see and then interaction between yourselves with actors and audience could have been possible. Those musicians who had roles could have combined this with the stepping in and out of the band. However I loved it!

The crew

I can imagine this was a bit of a nightmare to put together. When a director thanks someone in particular and that person is the set builder you know it’s been a challenge.

I thought the set was amazing and I would have loved to have worked with it. The levels were great and the shadows created when lit were to die for. The additional props and furniture dressed this set superbly and changes were achieved with ease. The ‘one set fits all’ is absolutely right for this piece of work to achieve continuous scenes without breaks. So between Oonagh Hughes and Richard Hughes the intention and outcome were spot on.

The props already mentioned were great! Special mention must be given to the champagne bottle , (was it a magnum)? Brecht advocated quality props so I am glad you followed through Brenda Read-Brown.

The costumes were highly effective. Jenny’s costume has already had a mention and I think Jane Hughes has a very good eye and a consistent sense of design through style and colour. All the costumes helped the characterisations and fit with the director’s concept of not locking the period into the 21st century too emphatically. I particularly liked Mack’s gang’ s clothes

Ian Toft was a safe pair of hands for the sound and the lighting was very moody and atmospheric. I loved the spots - they were great. Occasionally there were patches of darkness that were not helpful as mentioned before but ‘Cookie’ created a seedy ambience which worked well.

A big thank you to the FOH team who provided tea and drinks for myself and my daughter. We had an amazing evening and it was a pleasure to adjudicate this show.