Review: The Threepenny Opera

A stylish reimagining of Brecht and Weill's classic

international review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
34049 large
The Threepenny Opera
Photo by Jörg Brüggemann
Published 20 Aug 2023

Keep it fresh, Peachum (a sharp-suited Tilo Nest) says, or the shine wears off. A businessman who profits from corralling beggars, he argues that humans have a short attention span when it comes to suffering: the person who spares their change on Monday will walk straight past by Wednesday. The same could be said (marginally less cynically) about Brecht’s theatrical vision: when people get too comfortable, they stop thinking critically.

It's a dog-eat-dog world in Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera (1928), but this gleaming new staging has little bite. From Brecht’s own Berliner Ensemble and directed by opera star Barrie Kosky, it’s jaw-droppingly stylish: a set crafted from metal ladders and platforms results in abstract social climbing, like watching a human game of snakes and ladders, and a lush, floor-to-ceiling glitter curtain wriggles in the breeze like the fringe on a flapper dress, only to be removed mid-way through a 'love' song. The orchestra, with a stage built on top of conductor Adam Benzwi’s piano, leans into the human heart of Weill’s score, only for Mackie Messer (played a lithe predator by Gabriel Schneider) to rip up the music and burn it.

But such fourth wall-breaking tricks are no longer enough to make this audience uncomfortable. The play’s chain-reactions of manipulation and exploitation are held up for us to judge – particularly by Cynthia Micas’ frustrated Polly Peachum – but the focus is on individual human flaws rather than structural politics. This Mack the Knife is definitely sexy, but it’s a shark without teeth.