by Manju Sampat
Directed by Imaad Shah, “The Threepenny Opera”, is the last of Aadyam’s plays, for its third season. This musical was performed over the weekend at St. Andrews auditorium by the Motley theatre group.
Set in the late nineteenth century, “The Threepenny Opera”, is a musical written by Bertolt Brecht and Elizabeth Hauptmann, and is based on John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera”.
Jonathan Peacham (Bugs Bhargava) runs an organisation for fake beggars, and distributes fake props to them, and supposedly teaches them “the craft of begging”, in exchange for fifty percent of their weekly take! His wife, Celia Peacham (Meher Mistry), assists him in this profitable though highly questionable endeavour. Their world is turned upside down when they discover that their only daughter, Polly (Saba Azad), has run away and married the black guard Macheath (Arunoday Singh), a scoundrel of the first order. He is a womaniser, a thief and a murderer. Determined to free Polly from the clutches of Macheath, or Mackie as he is known to his band of robbers, Peacham and his wife go in search of her. As they do so, the audience witnesses their crazy encounters with thieves, prostitutes and beggars. The audience is also led simultaneously through a maze of back alleys in the poorest parts of London, and made to come face to face with various two timing and down trodden characters.
Laced with sexual innuendos and naughty lyrics, this musical has the potential to be a hilarious spoof. However, The Threepenny Opera, seems to suffer the same draw back as another play of Brecht’s performed at Aadyam this year, “Mother Courage”. They both seem very dated. Another factor which took away from the enjoyment of this musical, was our unfamiliarity with its music and there are about eighteen songs. The musical opens and closes with the well known song “Mack the Knife”, beautifully sung by one of Macheath’s sidekicks, Jake (Edwin Joseph). This song has been popularised by Bobby Darrin and Ella Fitzgerald, the great jazz vocalist. It was originally composed in German by Kurt Weill as “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer”, or Mackie, the shark. A Moritat, is a medieval version of a “murder ballad”, usually performed by wandering minstrels. This song encapsulates Macheath’s life by comparing him to a shark and then talking of his long list of robberies, murders, and his various mistresses…”Jenny Towler, Suky Tawdry and sweet Lucy Brown”! The rascal marries not just Polly but Lucy Brown also. She is the daughter of his friend, the police chief Tiger Brown (Joy Fernandes). Tiger has managed to constantly protect and keep Macheath away from jail. Though finally his luck runs out and Macheath is jailed and sentenced to be hanged. However, “since this is an Opera, and we need a happy ending” says Mackie, he is pardoned by the Queen, in honour of her coronation.
The choreography by Saba Azad is very fluid and Yael Crishna’s lighting design is distinctive. However, the dark stage set design does not do anything to enhance this production. Arunoday Singh as Macheath is very good, and Bugs Bhargava as Jonathan Peacham is most believable, but it is Delna Mody as Jenny, who is the scene stealer! Her singing and her dancing in the Tango Ballad, “Ballad of Immoral Earnings”, are really beautiful. The rest of the supporting actors are very effective, especially Vivian Shah as Charlie, one of Peacham’s fake beggars. The live music provided by a trio led by German pianist Felix Hug, is excellent and adds to the enjoyment of this musical.
In the ultimate analysis Imaad Shah has made a very brave and ambitious choice in bringing “The Threepenny Opera” to the Mumbai stage and done a good job of it too! More shows of this musical are scheduled on December 9th and 10th at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA.