Vancouver Theatre Guide

Blog post by Mary Littlejohn: The Threepenny Opera

Saturday, November 26, 2016 10:00 AM | GVPTA (Administrator)

The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, based on John Gay's The Beggar's Opera

Reflections by GVPTA blogger Mary Littlejohn

Despite the fact that this 18th-century tale is now set in the 1920’s, and that all the Londoners have Canadian accents, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more authentic experience of The Threepenny Opera.

It’s not just a show. It’s a manifesto. It’s gritty. It’s dark. It’s very silly at times, but overall it’s a biting social commentary. It’s rough around the edges, but Theatre In The Raw consistently draws some of Vancouver’s most sublime performers, both professional and non. They give the material its needed gravitas without taking themselves seriously, providing us with a bevy of enduring characters, from the cutthroat Macheath and his ridiculous gang of misfits to the delightfully dysfunctional Peachums. We can still laugh as the world goes to Hell.

Theatre In The Raw is an experience. I keep using the word “experience” because that’s what it is. It’s not just something you watch. You feel personally involved. The actors are speaking to you; what’s more, even though you are a spectator, you feel as though you are engaged in a dialogue. It’s a bit of a lopsided forum, granted, but TITR is clearly inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s “Epic Theatre” production style. Both use the theatre as a platform to showcase political ideals, to force audiences to look past the floodlights and recognize the social inequality that is going on outside. This production is at the Russian Hall in the heart of Strathcona, just a stone’s throw from the Downtown Eastside. You can feel it seeping in, like “a body oozing life” in the famous song. Even the audience members here are not your typical theatre-going crowd. They seem more alert and engaged. A line like “the powerful of the earth can create poverty but they can’t bear to look at it” gets spontaneous applause, because it hits you to your core. It was great to see a packed house on a Wednesday evening (though the 2-for-1 deal might have had something to do with it). 

I can understand why this show has remained so popular and has been re-vamped and re-invented countless times since 1728 when John Gay cobbled together The Beggar’s Opera. Have things changed so little? The poor are still poor, the rich are still rich, criminals walk free and wronged women receive no retribution. Until these are things of the past, The Threepenny Opera will remain regrettably relevant.

The Threepenny Opera is presented by Theatre In the Raw, and is playing until November 27, 2016.

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