National Theatre Live: Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera


For all those high school drama and theatre teachers searching for a Bertolt Brecht work on film to show your students, this may be your answer. A live version of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s 1928 masterpiece The Threepenny Opera is about to hit arthouse cinemas for a screening in Australia and around the world.

The National Theatre recently staged The Threepenny Opera to mostly and reviews. It was the first professional revival of the work on a London stage in over twenty years. National Theatre Live, the National’s digital arm, produced this filmed version at the Olivier Theatre with Sharmill Films. It will screen from Saturday November 12 in all Australian states for a strictly limited season.

London scrubs up for the coronation. The thieves are on the make, the whores on the pull, the police cutting deals to keep it all out of sight. Mr and Mrs Peachum are looking forward to a bumper day in the beggary business, but their daughter didn’t come home last night. Mack the Knife is back in town.

If you live in Melbourne or Sydney, you may have been lucky enough to see the Malthouse Theatre/Victorian Opera co-production of The Threepenny Opera some years ago. This wonderful production, starring Eddie Perfect and Paul Capsis among others, ran in June 2010 (Melbourne) and September 2011 (Sydney). I can still picture Eddie Perfect’s almost perfect Macheath on that stage!

Sometimes dubbed as an opera, sometimes a musical, The Threepenny Opera is really a play with songs, or music drama. Brecht loosely based his work on John Gay’s 1728 ballad opera The Beggar’s Opera. In the process, Brecht collaborated with Elisabeth Hauptmann and composer Kurt Weill. Brecht wrote the lyrics, Weill the music, and the show’s notable number is Mack The Knife.

Drama teachers often struggle to find works by Brecht on film to share with their students who wish to gain a deeper understanding of one of the great theatre practitioners of the 20th century. Although the NT Live version only appears to have special screenings in cinemas at this stage, it should still prove excellent material for teachers and students. Hopefully, like The Globe Theatre Shakespeare productions, The Threepenny Opera will soon be available for digital purchase so we can show it in our classrooms.

The best site to search for screenings is the National Theatre Live website which will detect your device’s IP address and direct you to the nearest cinema in your city and country. First run and encore screenings are occurring over the next few weeks around the world. Enjoy!

For a bit of extra fun, check out this excellent article by the National Theatre, The Threepenny Opera: The Chaos Behind A Classic, outlining the mayhem that ensued getting this work on the Berlin stage back in 1928.

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