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Seeing this company’s members perform with their obvious or not so obvious disabilities took me back in my mind to 2007, when I trained alongside a woman who was a versatile artist with a sunny personality. It was during one of those excruciatingly embarrassing and somewhat pretentious sessions when the group were ‘exploring relationship between emotion and its ‘affect’ on self confidence’ that there came a sudden wave of emotional outpouring from her. She said, through tears of frustration, that before she did ‘anything’ – she always had to get past ‘THIS’. She was referring to her wheelchair. And I remember thinking, Bloody-hell – yes, in this unequal and discriminating world, and knowing how intimidated I was feeling about putting myself out there without the added complexity; well, I felt hugely empathic and I’ve never forgotten it.

The Paralympics have crashed down these kinds of barriers in sport, worldwide. The work of the Graeae Theatre is ground breaking, a credible force for changing attitudes toward disability within the creative industry if ever there was one. All credit to The Birmingham Repertory Theatre to allow the company to take over their theatre – until April 12th.

About the show…The ThreePenny Opera was written and performed pre WWII. This is a reinvention of what is called the “opera for beggars” and mixes up the dark ways of the world in the past, present and of the near future. I don’t remember the lyrics to Mack the Knife being quite as scary as they are here (so they’ve been changed in versions since). This well known song is performed in the opening scene and introduces bad boy, Macheath. The rest of the operatic score was unfamiliar to me but the visual juxtaposing of the words on a screen as they are sung, or as they are spoken for that matter, as well as the signing for the deaf was stimulating for the senses. Anarchy is advocated in the music, the tone is aggressive and is projected with ‘in your face’ attitude. There is not much contrasting themes and with all the loud voices I felt disengaged for the best part. All in all the stage is, intentionally, a pretty preposterous place with beggars and thieves, tarts and vicars; a corrupt cop and a snarling narrator, much of what you might expect from the genre in fact. There is no flick knife slashing however, a little too much sexual teasing and taunting and the odd ripple of comedy.

Many members of the cast are multi-talented, possessing not only great vocal skills but are able to play different instruments. Noteable performances are too many to mention in a 500 word review, but Garry Robson holds on to a defining presence as JJ Peachum.


All photography by Patrick Baldwin

Slideshow features Cici Howells (Polly) and Milton Lopes (Macheath) Amelia Cavallo (Jenny) Natasha Lewis (Lucy) Joey Hickman (Performance MD/keyboards), Stephen Collins (Ned), Garry Robson (JJ Peachum), TJ Holmes (Smtih) and Joe Vetch (Bob/PC/beggar)

Review by Debra Hall in an official capacity attended the press night showing of The ThreePenny Opera at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 27th March on behalf of Remotegoat. Review also published here


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