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The Threepenny Opera review at Octagon Theatre, Bolton – ‘standout performances’

The cast of The Threepenny Opera at Octagon Theatre, Bolton. Photo: Richard Davenport
The cast of The Threepenny Opera at Octagon Theatre, Bolton. Photo: Richard Davenport

Although its themes of corruption in high places and moral turpitude are perennially relevant, Brecht and Weill’s densely packed hybrid of opera and musical theatre, The Threepenny Opera, feels very much of its time.

Based on John Gay’s 18th-century operetta but first performed in Berlin in 1928 and set in Victorian London, any modern incarnations – including last year’s revival at the National Theatre – have struggled to rectify its innate unwieldiness.

David Thacker’s striking looking production is set in a near future where Prince Charles is about to become king but doesn’t say much more about the status of the haves and the have-nots than Brecht did almost 100 years ago. Robert David MacDonald and Jeremy Sams’ translations infuse the dialogue and lyrics with a sweary, confident swagger, but despite mentions of Topshop and selfies it feels more reminiscent of a bygone age.

Eric Potts’ avuncular Peachum may sport a Union Jack tie that any Ukiper would be proud of but he directs his troupe of fake beggars with a paternally Victorian, Fagin-like air, while David Birrell’s commanding criminal kingpin Macheath is more 1960s Kray twin than 21st century villain.

Although well-played by the cast of actor-musicians, Carol Sloman’s arrangements hew closely to Weill’s original jazz-infused orchestrations, resulting in a procession of similar-sounding songs. Only when they stray from this formula – as in Birrell’s breezily swinging Noel Coward-esque version of Ballad of the Pleasant Life, Sue Devaney’s deliciously tart rendition of Ballad of Sexual Dependency as Mrs Peachum and Anna Wheatley’s brassily raunchy numbers as Polly – do they really hit the mark.

Verdict
Standout performances lift a noble but flawed attempt to apply Brecht’s howls of protest to the injustices of the 21st century
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