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Theatre: Depraved Weill city where poverty is a crime


MUSICAL EXUBERANCE: A scene from ‘The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’ by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, at the Olympia

MUSICAL EXUBERANCE: A scene from ‘The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’ by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, at the Olympia

MUSICAL EXUBERANCE: A scene from ‘The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’ by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, at the Olympia

Lynne Parker is primarily a drama director. But she has proved that she is aware of the different requirements for opera (not least with her extremely impressive Albert Herring, an RIAM student production).

So some of her directorial decisions for the co-production between Opera Ireland and Rough Magic of The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny seem inexplicable.

The seating in the Olympia in Dublin has been reconfigured to put the orchestra (The Orchestra of Ireland, led by Fionnuala Hunt) into the parterre, filling one side of it, while the action spills from the stage into the pit and onto the dress circle boxes as well as along the sides of the parterre audience. In addition, there is a phalanx of audience seating across the back of the stage. It makes for completely unbalanced sound, although I can speak with authority only from my own perspective, the massive sound box just feet away from my face, while half the chorus boomed into my right ear inches away, and the sound from the other half filtered uneasily on a diagonal from behind the orchestra over my left shoulder: I was unable to see them, as was the case with much of the action, played so that large parts of the audience spent a lot of time screwing their bodies into S-hooks in an attempt to follow it.

That may have been necessary to fit into the reconfiguration; but the question then arises as to the advisability of it, however “imaginative” it might have seemed as a city scape at the design stage.

Other than that, the opera itself is undoubtedly a masterpiece of its genre, the Weill score swooping through the precision of Brecht’s savage libretto into crashing, exuberant melody, in itself a cultural counterpoint of the two men’s disillusion with what they saw as the failure of capitalism (even though Weill ultimately left his collaborator along the way towards the latter’s conversion to Marxism.)

For the city of Mahoganny read any crass, newly created society where greed is allowed to corrupt: the opera actually dates from 1930, and premiered just months after the Wall Street crash of 1929, while at another level, Las Vegas was founded as a city only in 1905.

In such societies, Brecht posited, the only crime is poverty, and in the city of Mahagonny, a murderer is pardoned, while the (admittedly anti) hero is executed for being unable to pay his bar bill, itself incurred through vulgar exhibitionism.

In the OTC/Rough Magic production, Jimmy dies on a symbolic cross, flying high above the stage, his treacherous love, the prostitute Jenny, sidelined while her fellow prostitutes take centre-stage. Claudia Boyle and Julian Hubbard sing the roles with suitable gusto, Boyle in particular seeming to have a seamless empathy with the score.

John Molloy and Anne Marie Gibbons are also particularly impressive as the founding criminals of the new city of depravity, Trinity Moses and Begbick.

David Brophy conducts, and set design, which effectively seems to be none at all, is in the hands of Aedin Cosgrove. Consolata Boyle’s costumes, however, are reminiscent of any age an audience may like to ascribe to this universal morality tale: you could, indeed, see them as belonging on the streets of Dublin in 2014.

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THERE’S a neat twist to Tactics the new play by Finbarr Doyle and Jeda de Bri. It opens with a woman who is clearly a budding politician rehearsing her “spiel”: she “knows mistakes have been made”; she wants to “restore the electorate’s faith” by serving her local community at national level, continuing the noble tradition set by her late father….etc., etc. And you feel slightly sick at the trite, cynical superficiality of it all.

And then it goes on to play out a would-be rape sex ritual between this 30-something year old woman and her rather nasty 19-year-old toy boy. Enter her husband, and some even more nasty things happen, leaving a lot of very real blood around the place.

The twist is that none of it is as nasty as the opening ploy of a “simple” political speech. Tactics is very well written indeed: it is a thoroughly unpleasant, heartfelt comment on what the authors clearly see as the contemptible nature of all party politics in this country: far more contemptible than a “decent” bit of sexual rage gone violently wrong.

It’s a Sickle Moon production at Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan’s bar on Eden Quay in Dublin, directed with fire and discipline by de Bri, while Doyle plays the husband. Nessa Matthews is the would-be politician, and Kieran Roche the (rather long in the tooth for a 19-year-old) toy boy.

All are good both emotionally and technically, although one dreads to think what would happen to their projection in even a moderately-sized theatre: it’s fairly dreadful.

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