Lyric Theatre, Belfast
27 January to 10 February
Director: Walter Sutcliffe
Producers: Northern Ireland Opera & Lyric Theatre
Cast (in order of appearance): Kerri Quinn, Matthew Cavan, Orla Mullan, Tommy Wallace, Jolene O’Hara, Paul Garrett, Richard Croxford, Jayne Wisener, Brigid Shine, Maeve Smyth, Mark Dugdale, Stephen Page, Gerard McCabe
For his debut production as artistic director of Northern Ireland Opera, Walter Sutcliffe has signalled his intention to broaden the company’s repertoire by partnering with the Lyric Theatre on a piece which crosses genres and audience demographics. Through the show’s best known song, a visually arresting opening introduces a glowering line-up of pimps, prostitutes and ne’er do wells, who, one by one, descend into the hidden depths of the orchestra pit from whence they will make their entrances and exits.
A neon-lit staircase and stark cross-hatched surround form the cornerstones of Dorota Karolczak and Wolfgang Goebbel’s atmospheric set and lighting designs. The basic colour palette is vibrant, but a symbolic dash of black has been flicked into the mix. The stairs offer a potentially perilous central metaphor for the social climbing, dirty dealing and moral downsliding penetrating the dark heart of Brecht and Weill’s subversive musical satire.
Events unfold in the early 1950s, in the weeks leading up to the Coronation. In this corrupt underworld of spivs, hookers and thugs, a cacophony of Northern Ireland accents, offset by Stephen Page’s creepily faux toff Peachum and Richard Croxford’s lip curling Scouse copper Jackie ‘Tiger’ Brown, subtly reference the tangled politics polluting our own world.
Sinead Hayes inspires a strong musical experience, encompassing a handful of memorable individual performances. Jayne Wisener’s cute, daffy Polly contrasts effectively with the sultry Jenny Diver, a lost soul boldly played by Kerri Quinn. But Mark Dugdale’s strongly sung Macheath is less a lethally charming criminal than a laddish Belfast rogue, an interpretation which rather skews the character’s toxic influence on the unfolding narrative.
This review first appeared in The Stage on 2 February 2017