Monday, February 28, 2011

REVIEW: The Threepenny Opera by the Berliner Ensemble

Academy of Performing Arts Lyric Theatre, Sunday February 27

I went to this Berliner Ensemble performance after getting very polarized feedback about it. The people who like it, love it; and the people who dislike it, hate it. I do see where they are coming from.

In 1999, The Threepenny Opera made an appearance in the Hong Kong Arts Festival. It was a production by the China National Youth Theatre and it was performed in Putonghua and I cringed. A year before that, Robert Wilson made an 'appearance' in the Hong Kong Arts Festival. He was the director of Tom Waits' The Black Rider and it was performed by the Thalia Theater Hamburg and I swooned.

Robert Wilson and The Threepenny Opera seem like a perfect match. One can only imagine and get excited on the possibilities of how Wilson will explore and make the most out of the Brecht’s material and gestus style of acting that Brecht was famous for. The gestus style in which the combination of body language and facial expression is purposely used to construct meaning and communicate a message is somehow in parallel to Wilson’s anti-natural style. So, will this Wilson-Brecht combination (forget Weill) be a breathtaking breakthrough to behold?

The production started off very promising. The purpose and intent was clear. Wilson casted actors of different shapes and sizes, then have them costumed severely to make them even more distinctive. Mrs. Peachum was given a generous butt, Brown was given skinny pants to emphasize his lanky figure, Lucy was given a triangular dress. And when the costume can’t do the job, gravity defying hair shapes were used. This was done so well that in silhouette alone, one can pick the characters out from the line up. On top of that, each actor was given a signature mannered walk as they paraded across the stage, making them a bit more than two-dimensional… BRILLIANT.

What came after were hits and misses. I can’t help but feel that in a lot of times, the production was more about Wilson rather than Brecht. As for Weill, hardly any actor on stage can actually stick to the notes accurately no matter how good the accompanying ensemble was. The production was full of antics and effects and very little in psychological insights to the material. It wouldn’t have been too bad if all these antics and effects were integrated to move the plot onward, instead they appeared more like segments on their own, done for the sake of showing off, thus making the production feel very slow. By getting rid of the interval between Act I and II, it also made the work felt very lopsided.

It was a visually stunning production… but it was not good theatre. What seems just right in The Black Rider, was just too much for The Threepenny Opera. The Threepenny Opera alone is of such depth and clarity that any emphasis to create more meanings and create more messages just seemed vulgar.

March 1 2011 -

P.S. My review elicited very interesting feedbacks, almost as polarized as this show! If you have been to the show, please tell me which group do you belong to. My point? Theatre needs audience... I want a bit of paying patron perspective :-) I decided to do a bit of tallying and here's so far the results:

  1. Left during interval: 4 people
  2. Dislike the show: 4 people
  3. Like & dislike the show: 4 people
  4. Like the show: 7 people
The Threepenny Opera
A play with Music in a Prologue and Eight Scenes
by Bertolt Brecht after John Gays The Beggar's Opera
Music by Kurt Weill

Creative Team:
Direction/Stage/Lighting Concept: Robert Wilson
Costumes: Jacques Reynaud
Music Directors / Repetiteurs: Hans-Jorn Brandenburg, Stefan Rager

Cast includes:
Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum: Jurgen Holts
Celia Peachum: Traute Hoess
Polly Peachum: Christina Drechsler
Macheath: Stefan Kurt
Brown: Axel Werner
Lucy: Ann Graenzer
Jenny: Angela Winkler
Filch: Georgios Tsivanoglou

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At March 7, 2011 at 2:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm no.4, like the show!
cool sets, interesting stage direction, and spectacular lighting.
especially love the more than two-dimensional characters.

though kinda of agreed with the issue with depth, i do enjoy the show.

At March 7, 2011 at 3:16 PM , Blogger SATOSHI said...

Thank you for responding! With you, the number of people who like the show has grew from 6 to 7 now!

At September 3, 2011 at 2:52 PM , Anonymous HT said...

Please count me as No.4 - LIKE LIKE LIKE!

At September 3, 2011 at 6:48 PM , Blogger SATOSHI said...

Dear HT, no double counting... already did early on :-)


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