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July 2018


The Threepenny Opera was first performed in Berlin in 1928. It has been described as a 'play with music' and revolutionary at the time. Today many current musicals and been strongly influenced by the Brechtian style, when actors step out of the scenes to talk to the audience and songs are a commentary rather than part of the narrative. Bertolt Brecht co-wrote The Threepenny Opera with Elizabeth Hauptmann (who rarely gets a credit) and collaborated with Kurt Weill who delivered a ground-breaking jazz score for the piece. The play is based on John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, written in 1928. Gay proclaimed it to be an 'opera for beggars', with the idea that it would be so cheap that even the poorest of people would be able to afford to see it. 

Both Brecht and Weill were known socialists, disillusioned with life after the First World War and saw the potential of updating the material in The Beggars Opera in a socio-political innovative way. The play was to be a commentary on the evils of capitalism, as well as a satire on the traditional 'stuffy' opera. They wanted to create a new kind of musical theatre that involved an audience intellectually rather than emotionally. 

The best known English translation of the play gave rise to the popularity of the song 'Mack the Knife'; with over forty pop recordings of it including Bobby Darin, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Robbie Williams. However the play's most famour song was a last-minute addition. Just days before its 1928 premiere Harald Paulsen, who played the famous anti-hero, thought his character would be best introduced with a song, and so an original, dark, gritty version of the well-known swing hit of today was born. 

The Threepenny Opera has had a number of translations and enjoyed a number of revivals over the decades. The 1994 adaptation by the Donmar Warehouse is the version that director Mel Guest chose as her debut with Harlow Theatre Company. In it, Tom Hollander played the part of Macheath joining the ranks of a number of notable performances including Tim Curry, Alan Cummings and most recently Rory Kinnear at the National Theatre in 2016. Despite now celebrating its 90th birthday, The Threepenny Opera and its social commentary remain as relevant today as ever. 

Director Mel Guest said of the production: "When I first stuck my head above the parapet and suggested I was interested in directing, my expectation was something of a smaller scale to get me out of the starting blocks. I cannot describe the combined excitement and panic I felt at being asked to tackle something so complex - a large cast, strong political storylines, challenging musical numbers and Brecht's intention of creating theatre which makes you think.

It was a big decision to opt for the modern adaptation by the Donmar Warehouse, rather than the more familiar, traditional versions of the show. The Threepenny Opera is a political commentary on a capitalist society and, when I first read this version, I was struck by the strong familiarity with challenges that people still face today. Rising gang violence, increasing poverty, corruption within major areas of society, the continuous drive for profit over equality - headlines we have seen recently in our current media."

Cast List

Narrator - Kevin Smith

Mr Peachum - Paul Stephenson

Filch - Kevin Smith

Mrs Peachum - Helga Kilroy

The Beggars - Heather Charnley, Annie Ray Williams, Elisha Smyth,

Katie Saunders

Matt the Mint - Leon Topley

Macheath - Joe Bishop

Polly Peachum - Alex Appleton

Crook-Fingered Jake - Michael Doe

Flick - Felicity Shakespeare

Ginny - Mel Guest

Reverend Kimball - Kevin Smith

Tiger Brown - Leo Appleton

Jenny Diver - Michelle Jimenez-Alder

Nelly - Katie Saunders

Vixen - Annie Ray Williams

Dolly - Elisha Smyth

Betty - Heather Charnley

Constable Smith - Kevin Smith

Constable - Felicity Shakespeare

Lucy Brown - Katie Saunders




The Band

Joe Clack - Banjo, Guitar

Geoff Duckworth - Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Treble Recorder

Roisin Quinn - Keyboard, Descant Recorder

Sarah Wiggins - Soprano Sax, Tenor Recorder

Production Team

Director –  Mel Guest

Musical Adaptation and Direction - Sarah Wiggins

Choreography - Sara Green

Production Manager - Paul Johnson

Set Design –  Brett Stevens

Lighting Design –  Tom Richards

Sound Design – Tom Richards

Costume Design –  Jocelyn Johnson

ASM and Properties – Sara Green

Art Design – Mel Guest

Co-Director - Jane Miles

Additional Choreography - Joe Bishop

Stage Manager – Sam Stevens

Set Construction: Brett Stevens, Steve Dove, Mel Guest,

Paul Johnson, Matt Stevens

Marketing – Jody Randall and Paul Johnson


Acknowledgements: We would like to thank our sponsors for their support throughout 2018.


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