The Attic Collective round off their inaugural season with the seminal Brecht–Weill musical masterpiece, first performed in 1928. Based on John Gay’s 18th-century Beggar’s Opera and set in Victorian England’s Soho, it parodies bourgeois society where poverty is a cruelly exploited spectacle, with a motley crew of nihilistic characters always ensuring their own survival in a world where everything is (and should be) monetised, sexualised, rigged and racketeered. It’s a concept which unfortunately is not alien, and only a slight exaggeration from our own, current socio-economic surroundings (privatised water anyone?)
Playing up Brecht’s love of self-conscious theatricality, the 18-strong cast confidently begin with an impressive “hitch” to transport them unapologetically (and thankfully) from the Cockney accents of London to their own Scottish twangs, as they flesh out the sardonic tale of philanderer Mack the Knife (Charlie West), new wife Polly Peachum (Kirsty Punton) and her repugnant father Jonathan Peacham (Max Reid), intent on revenge.
This is an accomplished ensemble performance in a chaotic feast for the eyes, as director Susan Worsfold’s rough and ready approach fuses the tatty Victoriana jazz setting with ramshackle hints of modernity. Unabashedly highlighting that sex, charisma and money can corrupt a broken society, the collective of 18-26 year olds confidently dive into this physically demanding showcase of silliness with Brecht’s unmistakable political edge.
The English translation by Marc Blitzstein is known for favouring sound over the subtleties of meaning, creating a somewhat toned-down script and lyric from the original, but the cast grasp what they are given in this version with vigour, spilling out into the auditorium and drawing the audience in to the dastardly tale of unlikeable misfits, in fine voice collectively yet not afraid to screech a little to ensure the sound doesn’t diverge into the saccharine sweet world of musical theatre revue.
It would be easy to draw out highlights for every performer onstage, from Conor McLeod’s hilariously subtle thieving Reverend Kimble or Andrew Cameron’s camply corrupt Tiger Brown, to Imogen Reiter’s brilliant multitude of expressions as Coaxer. Yet special mentions must go to Kirsty Punton’s hypnotic Polly and her brilliant rendition of Pirate Jenny, and Charlie West’s assured Macheath, capable of creating irresistible charismatic humour that reverts to violent outrage at the drop of his cane, anchoring himself plausibly within the antics surrounding him.
If there’s one negative, it’s the three-acts-into-two set-up, which clearly confused a lot of the auditorium (or at least those who hadn’t purchased interval drinks) with many a mutterings of “is that the end?” as the safety curtain came down. However, everyone returned to their seats, eager to see the concluding assault on society from a young repertoire fearless of the adult tone, which convinced and even affected a few audience members.
A fabulous year-long initiative from the Festival and King’s Theatre Trust, under the creative production of Catrin Sheridan draws to a conclusion with a memorable, visual feast – here’s hoping it can continue for many years to come.