Mack The Knife (4 stars)

Mack The Knife

Morag Fullarton's comedy drama is a fine rumination on integrity and populism within theatre

Writer and director Morag Fullarton's take on the heady days of the Weimar Republic and the high-minded individual that was one Bertolt Brecht (George Drennan) is a cocktail of cartoonish cabaret and scathing satire. Focusing on the uneasy relationship between the ideals of Brecht and the need for commercial success, Brecht, together with songwriter Kurt Weill (Kevin Lennon) and singer wife Lotte Lenya (Angela Darcy) shook up the theatre establishment, by breaking the fourth wall and making work which spoke to the heightened political awareness of the times.

With their new production of The Threepenny Opera dogged by the relentless rampant egotism of Kurt Gerron (Keith Fleming, parodying the affectations of a narcissistic thespian): a refusal by other cast members to sing 'filthy' songs about destitution and prostitution, a series of bizarre titles and audiences resistant to change, it seemed destined to fail. Until the inclusion of a catchy little number called 'Mack the Knife' of course. The irony of a classic standard about a rapist and murderer becoming ubiquitous is not lost on Fullarton, and Gerron was forced to perform the song even as he met his untimely death in a concentration camp.

There are some heart-stopping moments, not least Darcy's gorgeous, visceral version of 'Pirate Jenny', and Fullarton's beautiful staging choices (placards denoting backstage gossip, a sliding bed for Lenya and Weill) even if the meshing of romping comedy isn't always an easy fit with chilling scenes of fascism. But the script is an intelligent reminder of how integrity doesn't always keep a writer warm at night, now as then, and the cast are superb, flitting seamlessly between roles.

Oran Mor, Glasgow, until Sat 21 Sep; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Mon 23–Sat 28 Sep.

A Play, A Pie & A Pint: Mack The Knife

George Drennan, Angie Darcy, Keith Fleming and Kevin Lennon bring 1920s Berlin decadence to life in this play by Morag Fullarton.