Monday, 26 January 2015

The Threepenny Opera - Queens Hall Music (25 January 2015)

Ah, jolly old Victorian London. It’s a wholesome place full of cutthroats, thieves, prostitutes and all manner of unsavoury characters including such luminaries as Jack the Ripper and, in this instance, MacHeath (Caleb Robinson-Cook), better known as Mack the Knife.  

Mack and his gang (Jaxon George, Emerson Brophy, Sven Ironside and Ben Adcock) are always looking for an easy mark and what better opportunity for some thieving than a royal coronation? A similar thought occurs to underworld crook Mr Peachum (Brett Peart) who, with the assistance of his stern wife (Hannah Kay), schools a bunch of misfits (including Clare Thomson, Elise Giaimo and Claire Thomas) to be beggars on the street. Problem is their daughter Polly (Tania Morrow) has secretly married Mack. The reality of this union doesn’t sit well with the Peachum’s who take all kinds of measures to see Mack captured and hanged. Police Commissioner Tiger Brown (Rod Worth) is an unwilling accomplice in this as his daughter Lucy (Emma-Marie Davis) is, ahem, also married to Mack.

It’s a fairly straight-forward tale with a ‘ticking clock’ of sorts in the second half as the hanging must occur at a specific time lest it distract from the impending coronation. Mack is ultimately undone by the betrayal of his ‘Thursday regular’, the beautiful Jenny Diver (Meg McKibbin). Our hero is quite the ladies’ man. Ultimately he is saved from the hangman’s noose by a little ‘Deus Ex Regina’ – a messenger (Claire Thomas) from Queen Victoria herself reads the pardon that saves the day. Happy endings are enforced by no less than royal decree!

Staged upstairs at the Perth Town Hall (in what I’m assuming is usually a ballroom) the acoustics were a little tricky with the high ceilings imparting a lot of echo. Given that, I thought the singing throughout was generally good but with the band being located immediately to stage left and incorporating a trumpet and trombone there were times the performers were overwhelmed by the volume of the music. The band itself under Musical Director David Hicks played well but that balance was problematic more often than not.

In terms of performance I really liked Peart and Kay as the Peachum’s both vocally and as the main adversaries to Mack. Robinson-Cook gives a forceful and charismatic turn as MacHeath, at times admonishing and cajoling his men; at others wheeling and dealing his way out of all the trouble his romantic and constabulary predicaments bring. I found Morrow’s dialogue a little hard to follow and while the main performers were mic’d up projection was still a problem with the echo. She also had a tendency in the first half to play to the audience while in scenes (as distinct from the stylistic choice where a solitary character would address the audience from time to time) which I found distracting.

Worth gives an excellent over-the-top performance as Tiger Brown and you could almost feel the hand wringing of despair as events don’t go his way. A most unusual police commissioner! Davis has a lovely cameo as Lucy and her one big number Barbara Song was well delivered as she effectively battled the band for aural supremacy. McKibben nicely underplays the moments leading up to her betrayal of Mack while Ironside is the second comic foil with a mischievous turn as both a gang member and police officer. A quiet standout for me was Jaxon George as Matt. He had a cockiness and surety that worked really well when needling Mack. Thomas has fun playing a boy who’s a newcomer to the begging game and the remaining cast all provide good support.

I wasn’t a fan of the set itself which was a series of some four folding panels that were moved to loosely interconnect to depict various locations. They had a real slipshod air about them and made the transitions quite clunky. Given that their only functional purpose was to provide doorways I think they possibly could have been done away with as the lack of quality was another distraction.

Finally, the staging itself was a little static for mine with more of a stand and deliver approach to the numbers. The show hit its straps in moments like Army Song where the energy and movement went up another gear and there was similar potential in Tango Ballad as Mack and Jenny dance. I did, however, like the black humour that was bubbling throughout this.

Directed by David Hardie with Music by Kurt Weill and Book and Lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, The Threepenny Opera had three performances as part of Fringe World.

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