Silo's production of the Bertolt Brecht /Kurt Weill classic opens with Jennifer Ward-Lealand, in Amy Winehouse mode, delivering a tortured Mac the Knife while members of a jazz combo scurry across the stage to take up their instruments. The song ends with a nod to Diana Ross playing Billie Holiday in the incarceration scene from Lady Sings the Blues.
The effect is absolutely electrifying - setting the tone for an edgy production, full of dangerous surprises, with moments of theatrical brilliance emerging from the shambolic gloom of a stage stripped bare to reveal the mechanics behind the spectacle.
The huge cast is peppered with Shortland Street faces and director Michael Hurst has opted for actors who can sing rather than singers who can act. The resulting vocals are often harsh but the decision is vindicated by the quality of the characterisations and the emotionally charged delivery of key songs.
Amanda Billing's Pirate Jenny is a case in point - her rendition may not capture the ethereal quality of the chorus but she nails the simmering intensity of the song's slow-burning revenge fantasy. Billing also delivers an unexpected show-stopper with the Barbara Song, which cogently explains why good girls prefer gangsters.
Peter Elliot is magnificent in the role of the Fagin like king of the beggars. His down-to-earth characterisation finds humour by somehow managing to be earnest and ironic at the same time. The hilarious song and dance routine in which he torments the chief of police with a rag-tag chorus of beggars is one of the show's many highlights
Roy Snow's Macheath lacks the raw menace associated with this role but he convincingly carries off the part of a sleazy two-timing charmer and his duet with Amanda Billing in the anti-romantic Love Song is genuinely moving.
Brecht has recently come under fire for his allegedly doctrinaire socialism but Threepenny Opera is anything but dogmatic as it points to a weird equivalence between the morality of gangsters and the bourgeoisie and this sensitively updated interpretation avoids any hint of romanticising the prostitutes and pimps.
The real strength of the production comes from the superb direction of the ensemble that often appears to be drifting aimlessly around the stage until they coalesce into a series of finely choreographed tableaux that unobtrusively reinforce the drama.
The finale is a tour-de-force with Michael Hurst's innate sense of theatricality merging with a set design that has John Verryt at his exuberant best.
Productions on this scale are a rare treat - the 27 member cast and a sizzling jazz combo have triumphantly revitalised a timeless classic. Go and see it.By Paul Simei-Barton