NT Live: The Threepenny Opera


I didn’t know what to expect of this show when I saw the poster. I only thought, well, it’s Rory Kinnear, so it shouldn’t be bad. The word Opera in the title made me think there might be some singing in there.

In the intro, before the play, it’s explained t hat a theepenny (pronounced: throopenny) is a play for the poor. It used to be put on stage for the people who did want some entertainment but didn’t have the funds to pay to go to the theatre. What a nice idea, going on the theme of theatre for the masses (one of the main themes for the NT), the plays that you can see at the NT have the most economic prices you can find just off of West End.

Originally this was a London play that was named the Beggar’s Opera, but only got popular in Germany during the twenties when it was transformed by Brecht and Weill and was set in Victorian London

The play is performed in the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre and it uses multiple of it’s features like the Drum Revolve (which is a stage underneath the stage that can be used for easy and quick set changes). I only know that it is called this because I went on a tour of the theatre last year and now have a book about the theatre on my shelves.

Talking about the play/ opera. The story is based on the tale of Mack the knife. I only knew this character from the song (as performed by Robbie Williams in his big-bang period).  From the song, I did know that he wasn’t a “good” person and this is already shown in the intro of the play when he kills a lot of people without really having a reason. When people are stabbed or slashed, they used red yarn to show the blood gushing out.

Set-wise this was either a simple or complicated one. They had a lot of wooden frames covered in brown paper. The paper does get cut, jumped through or just removed during the play, which does mean that it needed to be replaced on a daily basis. Thus making it hard since it’s not really a static set that they can use every day again.

There were a lot of influences of Germany in the twenties in this adaptation, winking to the time when the play was “created” by Brecht and Weill. Examples of this are mostly found in the clothing of the characters and even the drag-like appearances.

Being ahead of its time, one of the themes is homosexuality, but still being hidden from the outside world. The drag scene, on the other hand, is out in the open but gets mocked by certain characters. Mr Peachum, in particular, has the most wonderful drag outfit – you wouldn’t expect the controller of the beggars to dress this way

A lot of the female characters are strong women which challenge Mack and even get the best of him. Examples Mrs Peachum who does everything to get Mack thrown into jail. Polly Peachum who gets her hands on Mack’s books and sets them to her hand so that he doesn’t have cash at the ready when he needs to get out of jail. Jenny, yes she is a woman driven to prostitute herself by Mack but although still loving him does give him up.

As mentioned in the intro of the play, we weren’t to expect a moral to the story. If there was one it would have ended on the hanging of Mack (for his crimes against humankind) but he gets saved at the last minute by the king, who pardons him and knights him. This would mean the moral is that you can be as bad as you want and still get gain out of it. I think this is why they say don’t expect a moral

I enjoyed it immensely, as it had comedy, music and strong women!


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