THE THREEPENNY OPERA.
HARLOW THEATRE COMPANY.
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."
Narrator - Kevin Smith
Mr Peachum - Paul Stephenson
Filch - Kevin Smith
Mrs Peachum - Helga Kilroy
The Beggars - Heather Charnley, Annie Ray Williams, Elisha Smyth,
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
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
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.