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The Threepenny Opera: Imaad Shah delivers a faithful adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's raucous musical

“You know the constantly curious Brecht,
Whose songs you like to hum
He kept asking you with no respect,
From where do the rich their riches collect?
And so they kicked him about on his bum”
— (Solomon’s Song, The Threepenny Opera)

Just like the “constantly curious Brecht”, the audience at St Andrews Auditorium, Bandra sits curiously, murmuring in anticipation. Debutante director Imaad Shah’s brilliant and sublime production of The Threepenny Opera faithfully renders the 1928 musical by celebrated German playwright Bertolt Brecht and Elisabeth Hauptmann, which explores the all-too-familiar themes of corruption and morality. It’s the late 19th century and Victorian London is soaked in crime and debauchery. The Peachums, a shrewd couple, run a fake beggar business designed to showcase human misery to elicit money from the rich and powerful. Their life turns upside down (or so they believe) when they receive news that their young beautiful daughter Polly has fallen in love and decides to get married to the dreaded, notorious criminal Macheath (whose list of crimes is longer than their spine). The magnetic, womanising Macheath, like the other beggars and crooks in the story, has no moral compass. His criminal resume does not hinder his close friendship with the police chief Tiger Brown, who slips him the occasional information of when the police is about to “arrest him”. Trouble begins to brew for Macheath when the Peachums make it their life’s mission to ensure he is caught and taken to the gallows for running away with their daughter. A dark, farcical tale of loyalties conveniently discarded, betrayals, and corrupt prostitutes and low-lives thus enfolds in this riotous production by Motley.

 The Threepenny Opera: Imaad Shah delivers a faithful adaptation of Bertolt Brechts raucous musical

Poster for the Imaad Shah-directed The Threepenny Opera. Facebook/aadyamtheatre

So, what is so great about this particular adaptation of The Threepenny Opera? The question should be, “What’s not great about this raucous, sexy, entertaining production?”

This seventh and final production in the Aadyam Spotlight theatre festival has a lot to offer. Be it the creative direction and use of stage space, the comedic timings, the upbeat chemistry between actors, the live music, the powerful singing, the lighting or the costumes, Imaad Shah’s stage adaptation alienates the audience (as Brecht intended for his German audience) and forces them to think about the issues of corruption, class-divide and hypocrisy reflected in the musical in the Indian context.

A mix of jazz and cabaret, The Threepenny Opera educates as well as entertains. Brecht’s lyrics and Kurt Weill’s music set the tone of the play and act as a powerful commentary on the socio-economic situation of the characters, which the audience cannot help but relate to where the criminal and rich are rewarded while the poor and downtrodden are trampled upon. Capturing this despair is the ensemble cast of Arunoday Singh, Joy Fernandes, Delna Mody, Saba Azad, Vivaan Shah, Bugs Bharagava, Meher Mistry and others.

One couldn’t have asked for a more gifted cast. Arunoday Singh as the charming Macheath balances well between a cruel, hardened criminal and an inviting lover. Saba Azad plays the sweet, seemingly innocent Polly Peachum who reveals her greedy side as the play progresses. Bugs Bhargava enthralls the audience with his command over Jonathan Peachum’s character, through his comic timing, body, diction, and interpretation. Similarly, Meher Mistry as Celia Peachum performs as the irritable bourgeois wife who takes no interest in her daughter’s happiness. Joy Fernandes as the police chief Tiger Brown portrays his torn feelings towards saving his neck and his allegiance to his friend Macheath in a dramatic and hilarious fashion.

However, Delna Mody as the leader of prostitutes Jenny Towler is a revelation. Her strong stage presence backed by her powerful vocals leaves the audience spellbound. In the ‘Tango Ballad’ with Arunoday Singh, Mody packs a punch as she sings and emotes her regrets and desires while flicking her legs sharply in the dance sequence. One of the scenes which stands out in the play is where the prostitutes are introduced for the first time. The lighting is heated, dark and sexual with tones of red and yellow focused on the actors, thanks to lighting designer Yael Crishna, who adds another layer of depth to the entire play through lights. The prostitutes are placed in different parts of the stage and each performs her part effortlessly in a random yet choreographed dance, embodying the character completely.

Imaad Shah’s direction is thoughtful and creative. His use of sets to create two different levels on stage to show a more dynamic set up is commendable. It ensures the entrances and exits are not made just through the wings in front and keeps each movement fresh. Keeping the musicians on stage in one corner makes it feel like they are an inherent part of the action of the play as well. Another highlight of the play is when the cast sings the song ‘concerning the insecurity of the human condition’. The voices are one, the movement is simple yet powerful and it is a delight to watch it through as they bring Brecht’s edgy lyrics alive. Imaad takes Brecht’s script and reinvents it on stage. As the play edges towards the climax, the middle class’ disbelief over the criminally rich being rewarded is shown through the characters’ reactions, who become one and occasionally break the fourth wall.

The acting is meticulous throughout and it shows that each one of the actors has thought deeply of what they could do to react and bring out the subtext of the play. All the beggars and thieves played by Edwin Joseph, Vivaan Shah, Faizan Shaikh, Rahil Gilani, Suhaas Ahuja and Uday Chandra are portrayed to perfection. The gait, the voice, the use of the stage is very creative and even astonishing, at times.

The Threepenny Opera is a thoughtful, entertaining and hilarious adaptation of Brecht’s original and promises a stunning performance each time.

The Threepenny Opera will be performed again on 9 and 10 December at Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA in Mumbai.

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Updated Date: Dec 02, 2017 19:33:08 IST