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The wait is almost over as London readies for the most exciting opening of The Threepenny Opera in years. The names associated with the production explain the anticipation: Artistic Director of the National Theatre Rufus Norris leads the production, working from an entirely new adaptation by Simon Stephens. Rory Kinnear (Tanner in recent James Bond films) will take the role of Macheath. That's only the beginning of a uniquely strong cast and creative team. Other principal roles: Rosalie Craig (Polly), Nick Holder (Mr. Peachum), Haydn Gwynne (Mrs. Peachum), Sharon Small (Jenny), Peter De Jersey (Tiger Brown), George Ikediashi (Street Singer). National Theatre veteran David Shrubsole will serve as music director; Vicki Mortimer designs the sets, and Imogen Knight choreographs.
The creative team has taken an unusual approach to the work. Stephens has made a number of striking amendments to the script, introducing new plot elements, deepening the women characters, and striving to make the show more plausible dramatically. Yet the score will be rendered with the maximum possible fidelity to the original; the National Theatre has engaged a band of exactly seven members (just as at the legendary premiere in 1928) who will recreate the unusual doublings called for in the original score as published by the Kurt Weill Edition. That's not to say that the musical treatment will be entirely orthodox, because the famous Weill-Brecht song "Surabaya-Johnny" (from Happy End, written just one year later), will be sung by Jenny in Scene Five.
With tickets already available through 1 September and brisk advance sales, it is clear that the new Threepenny is creating plenty of buzz and shaping up as the can't-miss show in London this summer. Previews are already underway, and press night (opening night) falls on 26 May.
"Norris strips away some of the excess in Brecht's 'epic theatre' send-up of Twenties bourgeois decadence to reveal its hollow, desolate heart . . . . Simon Stephens's sardonic, vulgar, blunt new version skewers such modern social ills as the nepotistic peerage system, fat-cat golden handshakes and little England patriotism without forcing contemporary parallels too far down throats . . . . Weill's score contains all the emotion Brecht's book deliberately lacks and it's during the musical numbers, performed by a band dressed like ghoulish apparitions from a Weimar cabaret, that the production soars."
--Claire Allfree, The Telegraph
"Brecht and Weill's The Threepenny Opera--here self-consciously dubbed the 3 Penny Opera--is blessed with one of the great scores of modern musical theatre . . . . [D]irector Rufus Norris and playwright Simon Stephens have gone for broke with a staging and adaptation that convey the piece's complexities--a larger than life parable of amoral greed, subversive sexuality and being called to account by rough justice--in a way that is frequently bonkers . . . . The music is given a jagged, full-blooded treatment by David Shrubsole's onstage band, and there's the added value that comes from the interpolation into the score of "Surabaya-Johnny" from Brecht and Weill's less successful 1929 show Happy End."
--Mark Shenton, The Stage
"Simon Stephens's lean adaptation scrubs the text clean of superfluous speeches or muddied plots, without erasing Brecht's grubby thumbprints."
--Alice Saville, The Independent
"In a world where everyone's on the take, there are some vivid cartoon characters, archly performed. Nick Holder's pear-shaped Peachum, suited and beautied with eyeshadow and lipstick, sashays around in his little kitten heels, conducting ranks of balaclava-clad beggars. As his wife, Haydn Gwynne is a gangly hag, spraying vomit around like a fire extinguisher, while Rosalie Craig's Polly is a goody two-shoes with a head for numbers and a steely core. She more than matches Debbie Kurup's street-smart Lucy Brown, who's straight outta Harlem. Mac's gang make a lovely ragbag bunch as well, from Dominic Tighe's upper-crust 'Iceman' to Hammed Animashaun's hit-chasing Jimmy Retail. They’re bolstered by Jamie Beddard, an actor with cerebral palsy, scoring with every punchline."
--Matt Trueman, Variety
"To the list of recent happy theatrical surprises, add this one: Rory Kinnear sings, and very well, too. . . . as the criminal Captain Macheath in Rufus Norris's new National Theater production of The Threepenny Opera, in repertory at the Olivier auditorium, he anchors the tricky piece with vocal authority and bite. In turn, the show achieves the scabrous power this time-honored title is often said to possess but rarely does. . . . as the first act picks up steam and that immortal score takes hold, the evening soars on a canny, foul-mouthed amalgam that couples German expressionism--Haydn Gwynne's Mrs. Peachum is an Otto Dix study in scarlet--with a deeply modern inclusiveness that finds among the cast the disabled performer Jamie Beddard, who has cerebral palsy and lands arguably the most trenchant one-liner of the entire show. . . . Mr. Kinnear's take-no-prisoners Macheath cuts as sharp as the knife that gives his character both a career and a name."
--Matt Wolf, New York Times
BBC interview with Simon Stephens and Haydn Gwynne (audio)
BBC interview with Rufus Norris (audio)
Rory Kinnear on Threepenny Opera at National Theatre event (video)
Interview with Rory Kinnear
National Theatre Twitter feed
Kurt Weill Newsletter feature on the National Theatre production
Learn more about The Threepenny Opera
Cast of The Threepenny Opera in rehearsal
Originally posted: 19 May 2016
Last updated: 25 August 2016