Self-awareness and a sense of humour about your work are probably the two most important things needed to make a student play succeed, and director Georgie Botham’s conception of Brecht’s famous satire The Threepenny Opera had these by the bucketload.
Botham handled Brecht well, probably because she handled him delicately. When the house lights stayed on as the prologue started, I was slightly concerned that we were in for a production where we were made very aware of ourselves as an audience – it’s easy to make too much of the alienation effect, and similarly, a flagrant disregard for the fourth wall isn’t the same as acknowledging its existence – but Botham has teased out a really effective middle ground. Her direction of violence was especially strong, the physical space between perpetrator and victim just enough to break our suspension of disbelief, making us aware that we’re watching someone play a part without overdoing it at all.
Supporting her directorial vision, Christina Hill’s set design was like something from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, just unnerving enough to set the tone without distracting from the action. Special mention must also go to musical director Matthew Jackson – the band did brilliantly throughout.
The cast were at their best when singing, and this felt like a true ensemble production, each actor and musician supporting and bringing out the best in one other. The Peachums, played by Marcus Knight-Adams and Ella Tournes, were the strongest double act of the cast; their chemistry as performers was obvious, and they seemed to inspire energy in each other and the rest of the cast any time they were on stage. Eoghan McNelis’s Macheath was perhaps more charming than menacing, but his vocals were among the most accomplished of the production and were particularly impressive when he was alone on stage – no mean feat at the Playhouse. Maddy Page and Louis Cunningham were underutilised in the first half, and I was glad to see them expand their roles as Lucy Brown and Smith respectively after the interval.
Overall, the performance was well balanced and slick, certainly one of the best student led productions I’ve seen at the Playhouse – see it while you still can!