We're just settling down in our seats when a young man, scruffily dressed but ever so polite, asks if he can sit next to me. He does so, then pulls out a clipboard and begs five minutes of my time for a few questions. We play a word association game - he says 'fruit', I say 'lime'. 'Interesting' he says, and records my reply. I look around and find the place swarming with scruffy men, all with clipboards, all equally cagey about the purpose of this exercise.
Which is, it soon materialises, to gauge our gut reactions to issues of interest (opera, money, and, er, fruit) to Bertolt Brecht, the author of this 1920s piece. Before we know it, our intimate responses are being reported to the whole audience. We all have a bit of a chuckle about the silly ones ('The Queen': 'eurgh'), and then we're egged on to chant lines from the play.
But where did our new friends go? Oh, they've got a play to get on with. But what about those issues we discussed and bonded over? Erm, I suppose it will all become clear. Actually, it never quite does.
Never mind, the NT Mobile's own devised prologue doesn't take away from the piece, and the production is good enough on its own to make for an entertaining evening. Brecht's The Threepenny Opera dips into the lives of Mr Peachum (David Rubin), the owner of a beggar's shop, his status contender Macheath Michael Shaeffer who heads the network of thieves in London, and his number one fan Polly (Natasha Lewis), Mr Peachum's naïve daughter.
Wrought with characters remorselessly betraying one another, you might say this is an honest portrayal of our hypocritical, amoral, and Machiavellian ways. But unsure whether I subscribe to Brecht's cynicism, I'd much rather sit back and enjoy the fruitful characters and good tunes.
And Steven Edis' arrangement is a nice adaptation of Kurt Weill's music, with the cast doubling up as a brass ensemble to provide appealingly simple accompaniment, and a straightforward vocal style to match.
Brecht has made his characters deliberately unsympathetic, as we're to not let our feelings cloud our judgement of the facts he presents, and this is certainly a theatrical challenge. Perhaps it's also to blame for the sometimes rather heavy-handed humour adopted by this company, occasionally trivialising the subject matter - we don't feel for them, but at least they make us laugh.
The cast, in general, is a strong one, especially Rubin and Shaeffer, the latter wonderfully, wickedly amoral. All of which makes Tim Baker's take on The Threepenny Opera well worth a visit, though, sorry Brecht, mine's still a 'lime' to your 'fruit'.
- Peggy Nuttall (reviewed at the Albany Theatre, Deptford)