Essential Review

This review has been conducted by a member of the Essential Suffolk team

The Threepenny Opera

Graeae Theatre Company
New Wolsey, Ipswich
March 12-22

Reviewer: Adrian Rawlinson

“A riotous, raucous, high energy evening of humour, live music, acerbic (sometimes crude and earthy) wit and thought provoking themes performed by a company of highly talented actor musicians”


If I invited you to join me for an evening at the theatre to see a new production of a classic piece of German pre-war theatre - and an opera to boot – I would forgive you for suddenly remembering a long list of outstanding jobs that needed doing. Perhaps the filing or even re-organising the sock draw.

To the uninitiated – of which I unashamedly count myself as one – on face value The Threepenny Opera is not an obvious night out. Opera, German and Pre-war are not keywords that I have ever entered into Google searching for something to do. Add to this that the play is a multi-sensory production performed by the disability led theatre company Graeae,  and for some I know  this would be another barrier, not I would hope for any reason of prejudice but a lack of understanding that this truly is a mainstream evening out.

If instead I were to invite you to a riotous, raucous, high energy evening of humour, live music, acerbic (sometimes crude and earthy) wit and thought provoking themes performed by a company of highly talented actor musicians I would hope you would reconsider for that is exactly what this production is.

The downside of going to the theatre in the evening, for me at least, is that if you put me in a comfortable chair in a warm room, however the good the entertainment I can start to drift. Not tonight. From minute one to the very end I was transfixed by a story that was both engaging and superbly performed with sensational music throughout.     

In brief the story follows the central character MacHeath, a dangerous ‘two’ timing bad boy in London.  He’s a hit with the ladies but intends to marry Polly Peachum. Her dad, who happens to be in charge of all begging operations in town - and by no means a paragon of virtue - is against the match and wants to get Macheath hanged. Build in a corrupt police chief, a gaggle of prostitutes, and a band of MacHeath’s oft maligned and ill-treated criminal gang and there are enough characters to ensure the story moves along at a pace offering at times full belly laughs while at others the audience is transfixed by the intensity of the more serious sections.

The script has been adapted and updated to be topical and relevant.  This was also very evident in one of the multi-sensory aspects of the show where images were projected alongside song lyrics and dialogue. The irreverence/timing  of some of  the images of ‘celebrities’ was one of my highlights of the evening however you will have to see it for yourself to judge as I’m not committing to print the names I found particularly funny/poignant .

On an evening where there were genuinely no weak performances it seems churlish to pick out individuals for praise but some deserve mention either for their prominence within the overall production or their impact on me.

MacHeath is played by Milton Lopes, engaging throughout but totally compelling in one of the closing prison cell scenes.  “Where does that voice come from ?” was the whisper I heard a number of times when CiCi Howells – Polly Peacum – sang.  CiCi is diminutive but a powerful stage presence and a delight to watch.  Amelia Cavallo as Jenny and Victoria Oruwari as Mrs Peacham were both vocally outstanding as were the acting talents of Garry Robson, as JJ Peachum, and John Kelly as the narrator. My final mention would go to Stephen Collins who performed with great intensity throughout in whichever of his multi roles he was portraying.

In summary if you know anything about this play go and see this production, I’m sure you’ll be impressed with Graeae’s adaption. If like me you know nothing about this genre but want a good night out I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

While the production does ask questions about how people are treated in society today this play is not about disability but entirely about the ability of all involved and is an inspiration.

I want to see it again before the end of the run.

For ticket availabiity and more information on performances visit