Pretty teeth and jack knives

Natasha Lewis (Lucy), Milton Lopes (Macheath) and Cici Howells (Polly) Pictures: Patrick Baldwin

The Threepenny Opera

Birmingham Rep

****

IT’S FITTING in these days of austerity and benefit cuts that this reworking of the tale of criminals and beggars by Birmingham Rep in association with the Graeae Theatre Company  serves to imagine how those with special needs are often still seen by many today.

Directed by Peter Rowe and Jenny Sealy they have neatly coordinated the needs of several disabled performers alongside able-bodied players in a way that maybe traditionalists may have issues with, but here elevates the tale into a cross over between musical theatre, opera and street performance.

It’s chaotic at times and even the narrator John Kelly apologises for the potential technical issues we might see in either the surtitles or projected graphics but even that sets a mischievous tone from the outset. Considering what obstacles need to be overcome to bring many of the cast to this level of professionalism it is a stunningly coordinated and well realised piece of theatre.

The story if you didn’t know it, centres on the devious criminal, Mack the knife and his fall from riches to the gallows, aided and abetted by his partners and enemies in crime in Victorian London.

Milton Lopes as Macheath at times lacks the sheer evil depth of his character but is pretty enough to convince us that he might be a ladies man.  CiCi Howells plays Polly and has plenty of opportunity, as others do, to showcase her range of skills either with her great singing voice, playing a range of woodwind instruments or just  adding a touch `rock chick ‘ glamour to the company. 

Holding the maturity of the company together from his wheelchair is Garry Robson as JJ Peachum who conjures up the essence of a controlling Fagin type in a way that even Ray Winston would be impressed with.

Garry Robson as Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, the mastermind controlling all the beggars of London

Directing the many other actor musicians on stage is Joey Hickman and every transition by them from character to costume change, to entrance, back  to speech or musical performance of the ensemble was fluid and seamless.

There are some issues though in that whist it is great to see some of the otherwise off stage workings, there is a little too much exposure of everyone concerned at times. This can be a little distracting from the main action but understandably it is not an easy fix with graphics, titles, signing, and an on stage band all in view, all of the time.

One of the most solid performances for me was by Amelia Cavallo as Jenny. She has a powerful musical theatre voice and although had a cane during some of her several solo parts, showed no other signs that her sight is impaired.

In the end it’s that quality that was most impressive from the disabled performers in the company as the stage is packed with so much talent that they effectively made their disabilities invisible.

Even signer Jude Mahon blends into the setting as integral part of the staging with a graceful interpretation of the songs.

 It would be easy to pile praise on to this company simply because they have to deal with so much in bringing this kind of production to fruition. However with some assistance and the talent of more able bodied actors, alongside some very creative staging ideas, they prove without a doubt that theatre really is for everyone.To 12-04-14

Jeff Grant

The Threepenny Opera is a Birmingham Repertory Theatre production and has been co-produced with Graeae Theatre Company, New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich, Nottingham Playhouse and West Yorkshire Playhouse

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