THEATRE director Aarne Neeme is no stranger to the plays of Bertolt Brecht.
Academically trained by an eminent Berlin theatre historian, he he worked in his younger years with one of the legends of modern Australian theatre, Wal Cherry, before himself becoming a legend. Now in his 14th production for Canberra REP Neeme is back in town staging ” The Threepenny Opera “.
It’s not the first time – he staged the same play back in the early days of the Hunter Valley Theatre Company in Newcastle at the very strange time as this show’s narrator, Canberra actor Dick Goldberg, was playing a gang member in a Canberra production.
As we recently heard from the actor playing Macheath, Tim Sekuless, Neeme is keeping a close watch on the cast members headed up by Sekuless Peter Dark (Peachum), Sarah Louise Owens (Mrs Peachum), Tina Robinson (Polly Peachum), Jim Adamik (Tiger Brown/Mounted Messenger), Sian Harrington (Lucy Brown), Helen McFarlane (Jenny Diver), Dick Goldberg (Ballad Singer/Narrator), to make sure they don’t sentimentalise this famous but cynical play, which deconstructs John Gay’s hit “The Beggars Opera.”
Indeed, the idea of doing a modern version of the show came about when Brecht’s collaborator Elizabeth Hauptmann translated “The Beggars Opera” into German and she is usually credited with co-writing the script.
Neeme told “Citynews” at a press call this week that he had kept “The Beggars Opera” very much in mind while staging “The Threepenny Opera”, constantly asserting the principle that “this is theatre,” not real life. And while he suspects REP chose it to fill the need for a musical theatre production, this is no Broadway musical.
He’s fighting an uphill battle because, as his old theatre history teacher could have told him, Brecht is such a good playwright that he can appeal to the hearts of his audiences even when he wants to capture their minds as he delivers a Marxist analysis of the fictional gangland world of 18th-century London.
There is a danger, he knows, that the romantic scenes between Polly Peachum and Mack the Knife will mislead audiences, and though he admits that in Brecht’s “Mother Courage”, the death of the daughter Dumb Kattrin drew floods of tears from the public, he’s not about to let anything like that happen this time round.
As REP says, “Brutal, scandalous, yet humorous, hummable, and with a happy ending—Bertolt Brecht’s revolutionary masterpiece is a landmark of modern drama. Through the love story of Polly Peachum and Mack the Knife, Macheath, the play satirises the bourgeois of the Weimar Republic, revealing a society at the height of decadence and on the verge of chaos.”
Love story? We’ll see. At least the wonderful music of Kurt Weill will have the audiences tapping their feet.
Bertolt Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera,” at Theatre 3, February 26 – March 23, bookings to canberrarep.org.au or 6257 1950.