The Threepenny Opera
29/05/2008 - 21/06/2008
Bertolt Brecht’s first collaboration with Kurt Weill is now widely recognised as a masterpiece of 20th Century Musical Theatre. At its premiere in 1928, The Threepenny Opera blew Berlin apart. Bold, modern, shot through with urgent, anti-capitalist politics, it was full of rocking hit tunes but with brutally honest and street-wise lyrics.
Eighty years on it is still an explosive work. Its classic status has too often set it at a comfortable distance, but in 2008 with the world of sports-shoes sweatshops and stockpiled food, its questions still roar. Brecht and Weill crafted a noisy hotchpotch of stock operetta characters, American jazz, salient commentary and delicious comedy. Their rambunctious world of thieves and wh*res is refracted through the decadent prism of Weimar cabaret, and Weill’s songs include the legendary Mack The Knife and Pirate Jenny.
Presented in collaboration with The Large Group, this riveting and provocative epic is directed by our own inimitable theatrical genius Michael Hurst. A massive company of 27 will charge the Maidment Theatre stage, led by Jennifer Ward-Lealand, well-remembered for her spellbinding turn in Berlin, which also showcased a number of Weill’s most biting and charged anthems.
Silo Theatre is also delighted to welcome Delia Hannah back to the Auckland stage after an absence of six years. Delia is one of New Zealand’s most celebrated musical theatre performers, having toured Australasia as Fantine in Les Miserables, Mrs. Johnstone in Blood Brothers and Grizzabella in Cats. As the hilarious and booze-addled Mrs. Peachum, Delia combines her powerful voice, inimitable stage presence and musical prowess in what promises to be the theatre experience of 2008.
Vivid, wild, provocative, funny and very, very human.
This is Brecht for the 21st Century.
THE THREEPENNY OPERA opens at the Maidment Theatre on May 30th for a strictly limited season.
Bookings are available now on 09 308 2383 or at www.maidment.auckland.ac.nz
And for those of you that are a little budget conscious, we have a preview on Thursday May 29th – with all tickets available at a reduced rate.
Embrace the underworld.
Narrator: PAUL BARRETT
Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum: PETER ELLIOTT
Charles Filch: CHARLIE McDERMOTT
Celia Peachum: DELIA HANNAH
Matt of the Mint: KEITH ADAMS
Macheath: ROY SNOW
Polly Peachum: AMANDA BILLING
Crook-Fingered Jake: CHARLIE McDERMOTT
Chainsaw Bob: STEPHAN MAXWELL
Weeping-Willow Walter: JAMES WINTER
Reverend Kimball: PAUL BARRETT
Tiger Brown: CAMERON RHODES
Jenny Diver: JENNIFER WARD-LEALAND
Nadine: WAIMIHI HOTERE
Kitty: ELIZABETH TIERNEY
Constable Smith: PAUL BARRETT
Police Officer: KATIE SCOTT
Lucy Brown: ESTHER STEPHENS
Ensemble: KEITH ADAM, ISLA ADAMSON, GABRIELLE ANWEN, HELEN CORRY, WAIMIHI HOTERE, RENEE LYONS, STEPHAN MAXWELL, CHARLIE McDERMOTT, KATIE SCOTT, ELIZABETH TIERNEY, HEATHER WARNE, JAMES WINTER,
Piano: GRANT WINTERBURN
Woodwinds: JEFF HENDERSON, LUCIEN JOHNSON
Brass: KINGSLEY MELHUISH, LACHLAN RADFORD
Guitar: NIGEL GAVIN
Percussion: CHRIS O'CONNOR
set designer: JOHN VERRYT
costume designer: VICTORIA INGRAM
lighting designer: JEREMY FERN
English translation of the book by ROBERT DAVID MACDONALD
English translation of the lyrics by JEREMY SAMS
Used by arrangement with European American Music Corporation, Agent for The Kurt Weill Foundation For Music Inc. & Agent for Stefan Brecht
No character is blameless
Review by Renee Liang 03rd Jun 2008
“Morality has no home”, proclaims the tagline of this epic production by Silo Theatre, but in its own twisted way this tale of debauched gangsters and petty hoes has a morality all of its own. Brecht never wrote theatre as spectacle alone. He intended always to challenge the audience, often by inducing a discordance in their viewing, and director Michael Hurst has succeeded admirably in this.
On the subject of spectacle, The Threepenny Opera is one of those seminal theatre pieces that rewards a big, dramatic staging. One has the feeling that this bold and brassy piece is Silo Theatre’s coming of age party. The Maidment Theatre has never looked so glamorous. With a cast of 27, seven musicians, and a production and design team reading like a who’s who of New Zealand theatre, expectations were bound to be high. Add to this all the hype and controversy The Threepenny Opera has attracted since it was first staged 80 years ago and you can see the risk – and potential commercial success.
Back to Brecht, however. Director Michael Hurst – who is no stranger to staging The Threepenny Opera, having done it a number of times in the past – provides us with a production that deliberately sits uneasily between the past and the present. The prostitutes of 1920’s London look eerily similar to those you might see on the corner of K’Rd any night of the week; their potty mouths flick off modern-day parlance which wouldn’t be out of place in those gentleman’s establishments along Fort St. Sometimes, the counterpoint between past and present can be quite distracting. For example, Macheath’s band of cutthroats consume Ripples chips on plastic plates whilst describing how they mugged the Duchess of Somerset. At the risk of sounding like an overenthusiastic drama student, I would suggest that this is classically “Brechtian” – always turning the audience experience back on themselves, never quite allowing the full suspension of disbelief, since the whole point of theatre is to think about what you are seeing.
The actors, too, are in on the game – slyly knowing performances, flicking looks and asides at the audience. Amanda Billing as Polly Peachum is a haughty little miss, someone who has the grit to kick the asses of London’s most hardened criminals but who is still scared of her mother. The emotional tension of her singing, especially in “Pirate Jenny”, was a highlight. Roy Snow provided a somewhat gentlemanly Macheath, and although the comedic interaction with his ‘men’ was delightful, he wasn’t quite sexy enough to convince us that he deserved the attentions of such lusty maidens as Polly Peachum, Lucy Brown (Esther Stephens) and Jenny Diver (Jennifer Ward-Lealand in long-legged, husky voiced splendour). The catfight and duet between Stephens and Billing, on a raised dias resembling a boxing ring, proved the girls had more grit than the boys. Peter Elliot as Peachum and Delia Hannah as Mrs Peachum provided strong anchoring performances, and they were in many ways the most solid characterisations. My favourite though was the ubiquitous and talented Cameron Rhodes as Tiger Brown – his, er, friendly interactions with Macheath throwing new light on their relationship.
Musical director Grant Winterburn and his competent band were very much a part of the action, from their comedic cameos at the start of the show to their costuming and action as seedy music-hall regulars, bantering with prostitutes and beggars. They did considerable justice to the music of Kurt Weill with a raw and energetic interpretation.
Set design (by John Verryt), lighting (by Jeremy Fern) and costume (by Victoria Ingram, with assistance from Bronwyn Bent and Elizabeth Whiting) perfectly complemented the show. Verryt presented a stripped-back Maidment Stage, innards exposed. All the set changes and many of the costume changes were carried out in full view of the audience – some lucky people were even seated on the stage. The overall effect was of being included in a dress rehearsal where actors morphed frequently between being themselves and being their characters, and the show was sometimes not a show, but a musical, satire or rowdy backstage party. Indeed, it was amusing (to my small mind, at least) that some of the audience members, with their short shirt and knee-high boot ensembles, were indistinguishable from the actors playing prostitutes on stage. It could just be that the audience members were being Brechtian, of course.
If this talk is lulling you into a false sense that The Threepenny Opera is a light and amusing story, let me debunk that right now. It’s a dark, harrowing piece which asks some hard questions about violence, treatment of the poor and warns against oversentimentalising reality, and director Hurst doesn’t shirk from these ideas. There is a lot of violence shown, both emotional and physical, and none of Brecht’s characters are at all blameless. The deus ex machina ending – with distinct overtones of Les Mis, anthemic references worthy of a National Party convention and a flying rather than mounted messenger – had me in stitches, and people from the row in front turning around to shush me. It was brilliantly done and sounded the perfect satirical note to round off a satisfying theatrical experience.
Go and see it, it’s well worth it.
Originally published in The Lumière Reader.
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Razzle dazzle theatre set to oompapa jazz
Review by Deborah LaHatte 03rd Jun 2008
For a spooky moment as the final scene of The Threepenny Opera unfolded, I began to wonder if director Michael Hurst and designer John Verryt had snuck off to see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and had come back to twist this scene into a stunning ironic riposte to Priscilla … but, no, it really must have been coincidental.
But that masterly moment capped off a magnificent night of razzle dazzle theatre, set in a scary and ugly criminal underworld to wonderfully oompapa jazz. This may turn out to be the production of the year in this city. [More]
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Setting a high benchmark for theatre this year
Review by Gilbert Wong 03rd Jun 2008
There are no curtains on the Maidment stage. All artifice is laid bare. The backstage is visible as if through the open ribs of a carcass. Technicians race to set lights and props, the rag-tag band dashes on in various stages of undress as sad whore Jenny Diver stumbles to the mike and launches into a plaintive Mac the Knife. Her performance ends in a vicious beating.
It’s a captivating intro, setting the tone and mood perfectly for a mesmerising, ambitious production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s classic that feels freshly minted, an instant classic that sets a high benchmark for theatre this year. Hurst has always had a touch of the vaudeville to him and The Threepenny Opera gives him carte blanche to fulfil those instincts. Brecht pretty much defined demi-monde and this production takes the cue with raffish glee. [More]
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More than thruppence worth
Review by Paul Simei-Barton 03rd Jun 2008
Silo’s production of the Bertolt Brecht /Kurt Weill classic opens with Jennifer Ward-Lealand, in Amy Winehouse mode, delivering a tortured Mac the Knife while members of a jazz combo scurry across the stage to take up their instruments. The song ends with a nod to Diana Ross playing Billie Holiday in the incarceration scene from Lady Sings the Blues.
The effect is absolutely electrifying – setting the tone for an edgy production, full of dangerous surprises, with moments of theatrical brilliance emerging from the shambolic gloom of a stage stripped bare to reveal the mechanics behind the spectacle. [More]
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Estranged characters, heartfelt music
Review by Nik Smythe 01st Jun 2008
The stage is stripped of curtains, set dressing or any such adornments. There’s a ladder and crates of technical gear scattered about, a collection of musical instruments upstage right, and prime seating each side of the open-plan stage making the audience members seated there part of the show to those in the stalls and gallery.
As Jennifer Ward-Lealand playing Jenny Diver staggers drunkenly on stage, frantic techos strike the extraneous equipment for her to sing the opening number, the seminal classic anthem ‘Mack the Knife’. Apparently the strung out whorehouse madam’s song is too subversive so she’s forcibly removed by actors representing the song’s title character’s henchmen for the play proper to ensue.
This post modern deconstruction is in fact classic vintage Bertolt Brecht. His vision of Epic Theatre requires the facades be stripped back and the inner workings of the play exposed, so that the social and political issues being addressed are not clouded by the manipulation tactics available through theatrical aestheticism. The character performances are wholly dry, lacking any real connection. These are actors conveying a discussion with perfunctory grace.
Then there’s the music, where the heart and soul of the piece is expressed with explosive passion. As Kurt Weill’s outstanding masterwork swells and churns with rambunctiously percussive rhythms and teutonic melodies, so does all the emotion that is purposely absent from the narrative performance. The orchestra of seven led by pianist Grant Winterburn look as downtrodden and subservient as the rest of them, but he power they wield by the instrumental backing in this stark, desolate arena of desperation.
Paul Barrett takes the role of narrator, who dutifully announces what we are about to see from scene to scene. The story centres around the Peachum family: patriarch Jonathan Peachum (Peter Elliot) and his washed up gin soak of a wife Celia (Delia Hannah), who run an enterprising business in beggary. That is, they employ down-and-out urchins to fake hideous diseases and deformities to turn a sympathetic profit.
The talk of the town is about the day’s impending coronation of a new Queen. Peachum has big plans to exploit the unprecedented size of the expected crowd, but trouble arises when they discover their fair young daughter Polly has run off to marry none other than the most slippery uncouth rake of the organised crime circuit, Macheath. Roy Snow’s portrayal of the remorseless scoundrel is aptly supercilious; an estranging (Brechtian) portrayal of a lying cheat.
There are some glimmers of warmth somewhere in the souls of a scant few characters, particularly Cameron Rhodes’s Tiger Brown, Chief of Police and long time friend and accomplice of Macheath. Ward-Lealand’s Jenny and Macheath’s other seemingly innocent love interest Lucy Brown (Esther Stephens) also honour the feelings that the issues stir up more than most, searching for some recognisable connection in a disconnected, dysfunctional life.
Again: then there’s the music. From the aforementioned famous opening anthem through Polly’s haunting ballad ‘The Black Freighter’, to the nigh-on apocalyptic lament ‘What Keeps a Man Alive?’, sung by the entire cast in raw full voice, to expose the entrenched self-serving core of humanity or something like that.
During the interval I chanced to overhear director Michael Hurst explaining that this particular translation of the whole piece* is the only one currently authorised for production by the creators’ estates. There are no changes, only minor cuts. This belies the comparatively recent topicality of some of the lines, such as, "Victim of police brutality are you? .I bet it was consensual."
The excessively idealistic, yet repugnantly not, final scene defies description, despite clearly taking up ninety percent of the production budget. Apparently we the audience are presumed to be so taken in by Macheath’s antiheroic charms that we are relieved and grateful for a last minute reprieve from the newly crowned Queen. The disturbing thing is, we kind of are.
Veteran design team John Verryt (set), Victoria Ingram (costume) and Jeremy Fern (lighting) serve the production’s requisite honest pretension with professional expertise. Without denying the intensively rehearsed technical operation, there’s an implied intention of circumstantial spontaneity – the bloated finale notwithstanding.
Reading this over it’s perhaps a tad ambiguous as to whether I actually like the show or not. Indeed I do, just to be clear. It’s hard to tell how much satisfaction an audience not familiar with the concept of Epic Theatre will glean from the overtly pretentious staging, character- and narrative-wise. It’s arguable Brecht was always aiming for a non-plussed response to his work, perhaps to illustrate the fatuousness of the convention of theatre itself.
But then there’s the music.
* English translation of the book by ROBERT DAVID MACDONALD
English translation of the lyrics by JEREMY SAMS
Used by arrangement with European American Music Corporation, Agent for The Kurt Weill Foundation For Music Inc. & Agent for Stefan Brecht
P.S. For some transient reason I find it poignant to consider that this play premiered in 1928, the same year as Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse’s debut.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Bert July 1st, 2008I don't believe I have suggested at all that Truth is not a valid concept... Perhaps some confusion's being caused in the translation. My query was do you think the concept underlying Epic Theatre is valid? As for my life allegedly not being a mystery, how do you discern which sources of history are accurate and which are not?
Zia Lopez June 29th, 2008Bertie, unlike Shakespeare and Kennedy (what grand company you keep!) there is no longer any mystery about your activities. And yes, I'm sure you would prefer that people didn't care who stole what - but frustratingly, we do. We find Truth a 'valid concept', worth chasing.
Bert June 29th, 2008Have you got any dirt on Shakespeare while you're at it? I'll swap you for the truth about the Kennedy assassination. Wherever the origin of Epic Theatre lies, either you appreciate it's a valid concept, or you don't. If you don't then who cares who stole it from what. If you do then you must at least appreciate my work in it's own right. That's what it's actually for. As for any outstanding accounts with Kurt, I trust our respective estates can find a consensual solution. One of the advantages of being dead is I no longer personally owe anybody anything.
Zia Lopez June 28th, 2008Barefaced lies as usual, Bertie. By the way, Kurt's still chasing you for that huge amount of money you owe him.
Bert June 28th, 2008I never said anything was all my idea. It's everyone's idea. Was I knowingly and purposefully exploiting someone else's idea for my own personal gain because I was not capable of having an idea myself? ...I don't know who I really was well enough to answer that. I made some plays and people came and watched and clapped, and maybe thought about the world and their lives in a different way. Maybe they even took some kind of positive action, I do not know. I just created a collection of all sorts of ideas and I hope folks can benefit from them somehow. Kurt helped quite a lot.
Zia Lopez June 27th, 2008Oh hi Bertie, I was wondering when you’d pipe up. I would love your thoughts on the assertion below, that your ‘theory’ including that ‘alienation’ business was pinched from Meyerhold? “But Julius Bab, a leading theater critic and perhaps the most knowledgeable chronicler of German theater from 1900 to 1935, believed that Meyerhold had directly affected the development of avant-garde theater in the West. In his 1928 study of contemporary theater (which includes descriptions and photographs of Meyerhold's productions) Bab pointed out that Piscator as well as such other Brecht associates as Berthold Vier tel, George Grosz, and Caspar Neher, were indebted either to Meyerhold or to modernist Russian theater. 7 This view did not spring from any wishful thinking. In fact, the German critic was apprehensive that the Russians, with their love of visual devices and aversion to psychologizing, might dehumanize theatre … ” “Thus, at least by 1922, and with increasing regularity thereafter, Germany had news about the new Soviet theater. Even in far-off America, by the mid-1920s Meyerhold's name and accomplishments were household knowledge to theater people, who as yet (and for many years to come) knew nothing of Bertolt Brecht. Why, then, are Brecht's dramatic theory and style, which in every important detail so clearly echo Meyerhold's work, now popularly seen as phenomena which either sprang fresh and whole from Brecht's imagination, or in some vague and peripheral way were influenced by Greek theater, Renaissance theater, medieval theater--in other words, anything and everything but the work of Vsevolod Meyerhold? Perhaps the answer lies in the power of Stalin's purges, which erased not only the mortal part of so many millions of people, but in the case of artists, attempted to destroy their fame as well. Between 1939 (the year of his arrest) and 1956 (the year of his "rehabilitation") Meyerhold's renown nearly vanished.” (From The Theater of Meyerhold and Brecht by Katherine Eaton)
Bertie B June 27th, 2008You all deserve to be shot.
Welly Watch June 26th, 2008I’d love to oblige, theatrephile, but I haven’t seen that production. Surely there is someone up there who has, and has an opinion to share. Or one/some of the cast, even! Come on, give. What were you trying for and did it work? Oh, and did the production ‘fall apart’ during the season? Zia’s Billington/Hook anecdote is interesting, but the man and the works that bear his name are different issues, especially if one accepts the ‘text for sex’ theory espoused by John Fuegi in his, Brecht & Co: Sex, Politics and the Making of Modern Drama, which inspired the Jean Betts play The Collective, in 2003 (apparently women who were in love with Bertolt wrote the plays that made him famous in order to win sexual favours from him… something like that). I’ve found a quote from Fuegi: “[To] understand this century it is essential to recognize the wholly irrational power these figures – whether Hitler, Stalin, or Brecht – exerted when they were encountered in person. Brecht is very much a part of this century of the charismatic, irrational yet effective Pied Piper powers that could, in the case of both Hitler and Stalin, lure tens of millions of supposedly intelligent beings to embrace their butchers.” But maybe we’re going off on another tangent here. Someone answer theatrephile’s question, please.
Theatrephile June 26th, 2008Umm. Right. Well. Good, glad that's sorted out. Now, back to my initial question re Threepenny opera.... any thoughts?
Welly Watch June 26th, 2008You know what, Rachel? Many plays play with words and if someone wants to appropriate ‘enter: to go in’ by way of explaining their take on ‘entertain’ that’s fine by me. Yes yes, I know you are right(eous) and John was wrong but lighten up for heaven’s sake. Word play is fun – where would Shakespeare have been without it? I agree with Martyn that Wikipedia is not as rigorously reviewed as your published academic text but I can’t accept that just because something is in a (non-fiction) book it is therefore true. History books are, in the end, collections of selective opinions often challenged and contradicted in other history books. They keep each other in work. After all, anyone looking for a thesis topic has to find one that argues a point that hasn’t yet been done, don’t they? And as long as they can show they have reviewed the literature, and they reference their sources, they can get a pass mark, like that holocaust denier joker. What’s great about Wikipedia is that it is a very dynamic global ‘conversation’ that arguably has more integrity than the printed word because it does not claim to be the last word in accuracy.
Rachel Robbins June 26th, 2008I have a high regard for wikipedia. It's a basic self-regulating reference tool that works admirably. Of course it's not without its flaws but I challenge Martyn to show us where it advises that the derivation of the first part of the word "entertain" is "enter=to go in". That requires a special type of daftness.
martyn roberts June 26th, 2008This is perhaps a lesson on the dangers of 'wikipedia' as a source of information perhaps? It is the the most unreliable internet source yet so many people use it. Stop the rot and go to a book and look it up next time, and cross reference too. 4/10.
John Smythe June 25th, 2008I stand spanked once more and duly corrected. Thank you Mistress Rachel. We are agreed on the meaning of ‘tain’ (tenére to hold). So, given ‘enter’ in this context is interchangeable with ‘inter’ – a prefix occurring in loanwords from Latin, where it meant ‘between,’ ‘among,’ ‘in the midst of,’ ‘mutually,’ ‘reciprocally,’ ‘together,’ ‘during’ … the dictionary.com definition ‘to hold the attention of’ – mutually, reciprocally and/or together – may well serve. However, this suggests that one may not be individually entertained, reading a book, watching or even in a theatre, ‘between’, ‘among’ or ‘in the midst of’ among others who are bored witless while you alone are riveted. Certainly the collective experience can affect our desire to laugh or not; there is contagion to be had either way. But I would argue that common usage will require dictionaries to catch up with the possibility of being entertained alone. Mind you, if the mutuality, reciprocity and/or togetherness refer to the relationship between the entertainer and entertainee, it makes perfect sense. Anyway, the important thing is that we are entertained when our attention is held, which may be achieved though various combinations and permutations of emotional and/or intellectual engagement. And this may have some bearing on the discussion above about The Threepenny Opera.
Zia Lopez June 25th, 2008Grateful thanks Rachel; and very entreteniring.
Super Dooper June 25th, 2008Hey Rachel! http://modernarthur.com/blog/ christwhatanasshole.html
guy in the corner June 24th, 2008...all getting a little personal, eh, folks? ...wouldn't you say?
Rachel Robbins June 24th, 2008John Smythe posted 24 Jun that he'd "said it before but it's worth repeating: ENTER (to go in) + TAIN (to hold) = ENTERTAIN." He concludes from this, "By definition, then, entertainment is achieved when we are drawn in and held, either through emotional empathy or intellectual engagement or some combination of both." The word entertain first appeared in written English in the late 15th century, with its meaning "to keep up, maintain" (a rather fittingly Brechtian use). It was derived from the Middle French "entretenir" which in turn came from the Old French entre=among (from the Latin "inter") and tenir=to hold (from the Latin "tenere"). The sense of entertaining a guest appeared in 1490; the use of entertainer as public performer appeared in 1535 and the sense of entertaining as amusing appeared in 1626. Anyone breaking down the word entertain into parts consisting of "ENTER (to go in) + TAIN (to hold)" is probably best advised to steer clear of occupations that might involve making public pronouncements on the use of the English language. Meanwhile - how's Thelma, Weather and the Virtues of Reality going, John? That director got it up and running? It's not Moya Bannerman, is it?
P Stanway June 24th, 2008I was laid off at Fisher & Paykel in East Tamaki two years ago and got on the piss and started living on the streets. Most days I go begging up round the Ferry building and eating at the City Mission down the other end of town. I seen that musical was on about begging and that. I went to that Maidment Theatre and tried to bludge a ticket. They told me to fuck off.
Theatrephile June 24th, 2008Having been highly entertained by a number of Brecht's works over the last decade or more, in several countries, many complete with the whole distancing device, dollops of humour, and pathos, i simply found this production dull and unchallenging. Again, i would have to question the reason for staging it. Is it really that much of a classic that we need to tie up all of those resources in it? Thankfully i had my entertainment quotient more than filled at the delightfully lightweight, gloriously entertaining Priscilla the next night. Now there was a production that delivered on it's huge ticket price. Oh, and re Brecht's "The more innocent they are, the more they deserve to be shot" line: genius. I'm not surprised he never saw Brecht again, no doubt Brecht was avoiding the dullard.
John Smythe June 24th, 2008I've said it before but it's worth repeating: ENTER (to go in) + TAIN (to hold) = ENTERTAIN. By definition, then, entertainment is achieved when we are drawn in and held, either through emotional empathy or intellectual engagement or some combination of both. As I understand it, Brecht and/or the women who collaborated or ghost-wrote his plays, eschewed emotional empathy for fear it would distort our ability to analyse the socio-political implications of the content - hence what has become known in English as 'the alienation theory'. Or, as Wikipedia puts it: The distancing effect (from the German Verfremdungseffekt) is a theatrical and cinematic device "which prevents the audience from losing itself passively and completely in the character created by the actor, and which consequently leads the audience to be a consciously critical observer." The term was coined by playwright Bertolt Brecht to describe the aesthetics of epic theatre. The question here is whether one is being consciously critical of the work (as written and/or produced and performed) or of the make-believe characters and their actions - and at what point does such criticism render the work itself invalid?
nik smythe June 23rd, 2008that is interesting information... without further research into the controversy i can't really make any call as such. as it stands my review accurately reflects my personal experience. i will however add to the topic of translation, that i saw a fairly different version many years ago and recall a number of lines and lyrics were to my mind more effective than the comparatively staid text used today. more research would be needed to determine which text was the more literally translated? as for the audience being unentertained, whatever Brecht's living agendas were, he famously sought to challenge and wasn't afraid of alienating an audience. so in that respect this production appears to be a success, for whatever worth you might think such a success to have. did i mention the music was incredible?
Zia Lopez June 23rd, 2008I’m with you, Theatrephile. Nik Smythe ends his review with “It's arguable Brecht was always aiming for a non-plussed response to his work, perhaps to illustrate the fatuousness of the convention of theatre itself.” There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that Brecht preferred a ‘non-plussed response’ because the alternative was being rumbled as a conman and fraudster who exploited all those around him, who hid behind a cleverly constructed façade of ‘genius’ which far too many people who should know better are still helping to keep in place; and whose convictions were limited to the overwhelming importance of filling his Swiss bank accounts. Consider the following anecdote from a recent Michael Billington review:- ‘The American socialist Sidney Hook put the case for indifference best after Brecht came to dinner in Manhattan in the mid-Thirties. Stalin was forcing thousands of Soviet communists to confess to fantastic crimes, and Hook asked Brecht what he thought of the show trials. ' It was at this point that he said in words I have never forgotten, "As for them, the more innocent they are, the more they deserve to be shot." I was so taken aback that I thought I had misheard him. '"What are you saying?" I asked. 'He calmly repeated, "The more innocent they are, the more they deserve to be shot." 'I was stunned by his words. "Why? Why?" I exclaimed. All he did was smile at me in a nervous sort of way. I got up, went into the next room, and fetched his hat and coat. When I returned, he was still sitting in his chair, holding a drink in his hand. When he saw me with his hat and coat, he looked surprised. He put his glass down, rose, and with a sickly smile took his hat and coat and left. Neither of us said a word. I never saw him again.' I bet he didn’t. Sidney was supposed to be enchanted by the dazzling complexity of the master's response, and to spend the rest of his life trying to untangle its deeper meanings; not call Brecht’s bluff. I suggest Nik call his bluff too.
Theatrephile June 23rd, 2008Having had what I would consider the great misfortune to sit through this production on Friday night I came home and reread all of the reviews, wondering if i had in fact seen the same show. What i saw was a pedestrian, uninspired, and uninspiring, shouty piece of conservative theatre that appeared largely to be unenjoyable to many if not most in the audience. It was also plagued with technical issues, (microphones cutting out on a number of occasions). The row of people in front of me had a discussion at half time in which they stated that they were certainly not enjoying it in the slightest. One of them, an elderly gentleman, said, "I loved it last time i saw it, in 1960". To be fair, one woman stood and applauded at the end, but the applause in general was lackluster and perfunctory, and embarrassingly had virtually stopped before the cast reappeared to take a second bow. Being the polite theatergoers that we are we half heartedly clapped them again. So, my question is this: did anyone else see the production later in the season and did it fall apart somewhere along the way, or, was it always the uninspiring nonsense that we saw? If it is in fact, as one reviewer stated, the Silo's coming of age, i would have to wonder what age it has come into? All i saw was a vast waste of time and resources and funding, and really did have to wonder why it was even put on in the first place. Thoughts?
S Sanders June 3rd, 2008There are now also reviews on Metrolive ("It is only June, but if I had money on it, The Threepenny Opera is already the theatre experience of the year." - Gilbert Wong) and National Business Review ("This may turn out to be the production of the year in this city." - Deborah LaHatte). There seems to be a theme emerging . . . [Links to these reviews have now been added - ed]
Fred Barlow June 3rd, 2008Great review, Nik, really well written and interesting. It makes me wish I was in Auckland to see the show.