The Threepenny Opera at The Gate Theatre

November 5, 2013


There’s fresh blood pumping through old veins at the Gate Theatre where Wayne Jordan’s production of the Threepenny Opera has proved to be the hit of the Dublin Theatre Festival. But if you puff the razzle-dazzle off this lively production it’s the same Gate product beneath the youthful packaging. There are fantastic production values, solid- if safe, performances and a social spine that has been snapped and discarded in favor of a feel good factor.

It really is the most fun you’ll have in a theatre this year. But for a show where everyone is on the make, full of beggars, whores, the bent and the brutal, the fun shouldn’t override the desperation that drives man to do the despicable.

Charting the rise and fall of the gangster Mack The Knife against the backdrop of the King’s Coronation, he and his gang rape, murder, whore and steal, colluding with crooked coppers before they all aid in his inevitable decline in return for salvation and betterment.

Could you imagine what Mark O Rowe, who was originally meant to deliver the book, would have made with a story like that? He would have found the musicality in the primal language and the savage humanity needed for a tale that explores the overlap between capitalism and prostitution. The script used here is by Brecthian scholars Ralph Manheim and John Willett (both dead) and it lacks the grace and potency of the Dublin playwright, whose presence you suspect is floating about amongst the archaic text. The cast have to work over time, gesticulating and cuing up laughs to keep the production from falling into the black hole where the bitter social satire on our rotten society should be. There’s times when it feels a bit like Mrs. Browns Brecht, so quick and easy come the jokes.

As with Alice in Funderland, Jordan has assembled a terrific ensemble, drawing well received performances out of a mix of fail safe actors and those who are becoming so. We’re used to Stephen Brennan preening and pouncing and Mark O Reagan’s bombastic delivery bringing the house down. Now we have Ruth McGill’s demonic mugging and Rachel Gleeson’s gender bending to set fire to the rubble. A chorus comprised of Emmet Kirwan, Muiris Crowley, Valerie O Connor and Aaron Heffernan grab a hold of minor parts with greedy hands to maul the limelight. While Charlotte McCurry, who is often required to play it straight-ish, provides the foundation to most of the scenes she is in.

It’s just a pity that none of them could locate the dangerous duplicity of man. The covetus longing. No one should possess more charisma on stage than Mack himself but David Ganley is an absolute no show, more Beetlejuice than Bugsy Siegel.

Hilda Fay as Jenny Driver, hints at what could have been. Not the greatest singer or dancer, her voice cracks with emotion, reminding one of Judi Dench’s Sally Bowles in the original Cabaret. No lung busting diva she, but a survivor trying-and failing, to carve a niche out of life. She is heartbreaking. You wish the production had taken their nod from her, rather than applying a fur coat, no knickers aesthetic.

Still and all there is no denying what a terrific crowd pleaser Jordan has crafted. There’s energy and life on a stage that has long been stagnant and there’s hope the theatre might finally be ready to move beyond the cattle market classics.

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