“There will be no moralising tonight”
Whatever you think a national theatre should be for, I bloody love that Rufus Norris seems to determined to keep diversity near the top of the billing. Whilst it is curious that he’s only committed to ensuring gender equality in terms of the directors and living writers the National Theatre uses by 2021 (I’m sure there’s a reason it takes 5 years), there’s also change happening now in this new production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera.
The first actors we see and hear are George Ikediashi and Jamie Beddard. So what you might say? But they are respectively a cabaret artist better known as Le Gateau Chocolat and a wheelchair-using director, writer, actor, consultant, trainer and workshop leader who has worked across the arts, educational and social sectors (his website). And you begin to see one of the ways how Norris is opening up this venue in an important and hopefully lasting manner.
Stephens’ brash new version of the tale of Macheath (he of ‘Mack the Knife’, which comes from this show), remains a fierce indictment of capitalism, only more profane in this idiosyncratic East London that could even be contemporary, given the fluidity of Vicki Mortimer’s design. It is a rough and ready staging, as befits the source, captions and labels given a comic edge, the walls of what set there is made of paper through which any and everyone can burst.
And what a company of players for this play with songs. Rory Kinnear unveils a hitherto rarely heard singing voice as the cockily charismatic Macheath (as discussed with a couple of people though, is he handsome enough? Particularly when there’s the dreamy Dominic Tighe up there as well?) and perfectly suited to the task in hand it is. Of the women through whom he cuts a swathe, his wife Polly, the ever-light Rosalie Craig, and fling Lucy, a cracking Debbie Kurup stand out.
It’s interesting to see Norris employ actors who can sing as well as bona fide MT stars- Sharon Small may not be the most polished singer but she brings real grit to Jenny Diver and caught somewhere in the middle of being both excellent singers and strong actors, Nick Holder and Haydn Gwynne both shine with devilish glee as the despicable, avaricious Peachums, the exploitative embodiment of so much of what is wrong in society whether it’s Gay’s original 1720s, Brecht and Weill’s 1920s or just today.