The Threepenny Opera

The Threepenny Opera Adelaide Festival 2024Adelaide Festival. Berliner Ensemble. Her Majesty’s Theatre. 6 Mar 2024


No longer the “Wunderkind”, our one-time, oh so vivid Festival director, Barrie Kosky, is now in “Oberboss" territory and still, oh so vivid.

He shines in this production of The Threepenny Opera, the great Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill cultural-landmark anti-opera which has pleased and intrigued the arts world since 1928.  Kosky’s program acknowledges also the Elisabeth Hauptmann collaboration in the original adaptation of The Beggar’s Opera on which this work is based.


Kosky has done what he does, his own thing. He has stepped far away from German cabaret cliches and set the work on a great big industrial jungle gym of a set. The actors crawl and clamber through it and pose and perform. On opening night there was a problem with the hydraulics and the audience was informed that the cast had spent the day re-blocking the production to compensate.  They succeeded. The performance was a triumph. And, the production is the sort of masterpiece we always expected of Kosky who has been resident in Germany for decades now and producing ever more extraordinary works.


The Adelaide Festival opening night audience was simply purring the words “our Barrie” as it dispersed from the Her Maj foyer. Kosky was not in town, but parochial pride minded not.


The Threepenny Opera tells a grim and nasty story about London criminals, greedy businessmen, and infidelity. It is ferociously anti-capitalist, a Brechtian stance. And it is gloriously and absurdly farcical.


Kosky’s cast is sublime. One falls in love with one after another of them. 

The production is in German with translation screens flanking the stage, somewhat awkwardly for those in front stalls seating. 


The orchestra pit has been elevated because the orchestra's musicians are very much part of the action. This element is a part of the breaking of the fourth wall which characterises the “opera’s" style.  Actors cue the orchestra and appeal directly to the audience, while musicians, from time to time, stand as patsies.


The show opens with the white and sparkle-faced head of Dennis Jankowiak as The Moon over Soho peeking through the vast drop of loose glitter curtains. He introduces the first of the of the Weill refrains in a to-die-for tenor voice. Wickedly ethereal. And a taste of the cabaret imagery into which tradition has cast The Threepenny Opera.


The main protagonist, Macheath, aka Mac the Knife, is played by lithe and limber Gabriel Schneider. He seduces not only his women but the audience also. It’s an exhaustingly vigorous and outrageous performance. His bride, Polly Peachum, is delivered by Cynthia Micas who negotiates the giant scaffolds of the set clad in terrifyingly high platform shoes and sings like an angel. Her besuited father, Jonathan Peachum, in the form of respected German actor, Tilo Nest, expounds in Brechtian sprechgesang, the dark and selfish spirit of business; capitalist bastard that he is.


It is the Browns who bring the house down. As Brown, the London Police Chief, Kathrin Wehlisch is neatly in drag-king mode and playing her character with Chaplinesque panache. It is a feast of over-the-top reactive ham exemplifying the almost slapstick flavour with which Kosky has imbued the production and it is hard to take one's eye off her, unless it is to celebrate the actress playing Brown’s daughter, Lucy Brown, another Mac amorata. In this role, Laura Balzer steals the stage in a glorious impudence of wild physicality. There are beggars and prostitutes and, significantly, stage crew who perform their chores amid the actors in another demonstration of the fallen fourth wall.


Despite sound and hydraulic issues, the effusive orchestra of Adam Benzwi, the grotesqueries of makeup and the bright lighting of Ulrich Eh with the professionalism of a creamy cast ensured that Adelaide Festival’s big Kosky opener was absolutely all right on the night.



Samela Harris


When: 6 to 10 Mar

Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre