A talented cast lynched by their author

Review by David Munro

WHAT were the Weill foundation thinking of when they authorised this travesty of The Threepenny Opera?

Admittedly the original libretto was supposedly set in a contemporary, if still somewhat mythical, London, so there is some reason to bring the libretto up to date - even if one is faced with the insurmountable problem that in the Thirties, as in the time of the original Beggars Opera, hanging was the order of the day, which today it isn't so. By updating it the resolution of the piece becomes pointless.

Which leaves one with the thought that "if it ain't broke, why fix it?" Or, in the words of Cole Porter's telegram to Frank Sinatra, "if you don't like my lyrics, why sing my songs?"

That perhaps is unfair because one of the few things that emerged successfully from the shambles at the Lyric in Hammersmith were the lyrics by Jeremy Sams, which caught the flavour of the Brecht originals admirably and makes one believe that a recording of the songs from this production alone would be worth listening to.

That belief is not extended to the words uttered on the stage, which I will not dignify with the title of "libretto".

Why anyone could have imagined that Brecht intended to re-write Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'be rather than The Beggars Opera beggars, if you will pardon the pun, belief.

Rather than belabour the point, and preferring not to kick a man when he is down, I will not name the so-called author of this unfortunate event, even if the word iconoclast does come to mind. None of which assist those required to give life, if such be an applicable phrase, to the words.

Strangely, King Street to me became 42nd Street, as the understudy stole the show. In the minor part of Lucy, Sophie Scot, appearing for Kate Chapman, (if I heard the announcement alright, if not Kate, this applies to you!) blazed on the stage like an English Chita Rivera. If she can dance as well as she can act and sing, the musical stage has a star in embryo in her.

The rest of the cast sang well and one cannot blame them if they failed to bring any conviction to the evening; I defy a seasoned professional cast to do that.

Gareth David-Lloyd as Macheath will, I feel, be a credit to the musical stage, as will James Parker, as Peachum. Both gave their numbers the appropriate tincture of decadence in keeping with original author's intentions.

The Polly, I am afraid, was off on a quest of her own. One felt one was watching Tara Palmer Tomkinson giving a recital at Queen Charlotte's Ball, the "I know I'm naughty, but you know underneath it all I'm nice" aura pervaded her performance. Perhaps next year they will put on Thoroughly Modern Millie for her, she should be adequate in the title role.

The rest of the cast sang well and struggled manfully (or womanfully) against the flood of banalities they were forced to utter. I felt sorry that their talents were given so little chance to manifest themselves. One got the impression that Macheath would have found the gallows a merciful release from another evening of sound and fury signifying nothing.

The sets were more Catfish Row than Soho whilst the director had a clear dose of the Hal Prince Sweeny Todds. One hopes he will have recovered from it by his next production.

In short, this reviewer felt the cast - i.e. The National Youth Theatre - deserved something better and for that reason would urge you to go and see the production for their sake's if nothing else. They are worth it.

The Threepenny Opera Music by Kurt Weill, original German text by Bert Brecht (English lyric translations by Jeremy Sams). Presented by The National Youth Theatre at the Lyric Theatre, King's Road, Hammersmith. Tickets 020 8741 2311 (until September 14).

Click here for the Lyric, Hammersmith website...