Morag Fullarton’s Mack the Knife, entertaining, informative, and aesthetically compelling, is the perfect example of the standard that can be achieved within the Traverse’s lunchtime A Play, A Pie and a Pint series. Set in the tense and gritty arts scene of Berlin during the Weimar republic, the play tells the true story of the conception of Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill’s groundbreaking work, The Threepenny Opera. A play with music much like its source material, this is a production with themes and styling similar to those of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret. Led by a stellar cast and creative team, this production is a triumph.
Fullarton’s writing is pitch-perfect, and achieves the notes of humour perfect for a show about showbiz as the production team of the play-within-the-play struggles through seemingly never-ending obstacles in creating their unexpected hit. It also contains apt nods towards Brechtian style that feel smoothly integrated into the style of the production – acknowledgments of the influence the German Kabarett genre had on his work, the use of placards introducing scenes, and frequent fourth-wall breaks in which the cast addresses the audience directly. When the show’s titular song finally begins with a haunting whistle marking the long-anticipated opening night of The Threepenny Opera, the audience are filled with the same relief and excitement that one might imagine the show’s original audience might have felt.
The four-person cast (Angela Darcy, Keith Fleming, Kevin Lennon, and George Drennan) are perfectly matched and strong both vocally and through characterisation. Drennan is particularly effective as Brecht, and Darcy’s stunning vocals as Weill’s muse Lotte Lenya are soaring and clear. These impressive performances are complemented by bold design by Jonathan Scott and Gemma Patchett – with bold primary colours within the set dressings and footlights that line the front of the stage perfectly capture the kabarett aesthetic.
Choreographer Chris SJ Wilson should also be recognised for adding movement that while sometimes repetitive was definitely necessary to match the musical nature of the production. The only downside was a technical malfunction (which I am sure was temporary) that left a microphone softly buzzing throughout the production; however, this minor issue was easy to tune out once the riveting production was underway.
The story ends on a very dark note, touching on the rise of Nazism within Germany and the heart-breaking harm it inflicted on Jewish characters within the production. It would be amiss to create a show about this time period without mentioning the horrifying political implications that defined it, but the shift in tone felt somewhat abrupt and could have been hinted towards more frequently throughout the production as a whole. Nevertheless, the darkness feels like a necessary and appropriate ending and brings the haunting realities of the era to light. This is a hugely impressive show, and the members of this talented cast and production team are truly names and faces to look out for in future productions.