Dublin’s Olympia Theatre is transformed for this much-hyped Rough Magic-Opera Theatre Company show, produced in associated with Sky Arts.
Half of the stall seats are taken out, with the orchestra occupying that space. Several rows of audience seating are placed on stage, while the performers range through the aisles, pit, boxes and even to the upper circle.
Director Lynne Parker’s aim is presumably to immerse us in Bertolt Brecht’s city of Mahagonny — to witness from within its rise out of the American desert to become a mecca for gambling and debauchery. Yet the effect is of a place diffused, rather than of a theatre transformed.
The performance as seen by this critic, sitting on the stage, was likely very different from the one seen from the stalls. In any event, it was a struggle at times to understand the performers.
Brecht’s satire stems from the inversion of values: vices indulged, virtues ridiculed – culminating in an execution for the crime of being penniless. But it is difficult to fully revel in this topsy-turvy moral universe when the action has no real home. You admire the performers for making the most of the small stage area, but suspension ofdisbelief is impossible.
With Brecht’s contribution sabotaged by the staging, Kurt Weill’s score is to the fore, and, given his prominence, conductor David Brophy emerges as something of a star. Under him, Weill’s mix of jazz, cabaret and classical is vibrant, though you suspect the resonance of the wind sections suffers by being directly under the floor of the circle.
A booming John Molloy stands out as Trinity Moses, while soprano Claudia Boyle brings much confidence and charisma to the role of the prostitute Jenny.