The production has the ability to transform, as is made clear as soon as one enters the foyer: there are slogans beaming at you on various LCD screens and staff t-shirts conveying ticket and drink prices with a boastful wink. The slogans have an Orwellian sensibility and credit must be made to the marketing team who have instilled a great sense of fun and intrigue. They have managed to blatantly communicate real purchase possibilities without offense by alluding to the play itself, embracing the essence of consumerism that is so heavily critiqued by Weill and Brecht. It’s a fun start to the performance.
Once seated, the Mahagonny propaganda continues. On the stage screen are various phrases purporting to the fake country we are about to visit, including jibes about press receiving free tickets and no heckling or love-making permitted. The creative team have have lifted the experience to make it interactive and inclusive and it works.
The play begins in a sequence that could be lifted from a David Lynch film, with three fugitives traveling aboard a truck scampering down a highway, highlighted with severe spotlights harshly shining upon it in the otherwise black night; text is projected onto the screen with a 3D colour outline, in a font reminiscent of 1930s Grindhouse film credits. When the truck breaks down, the fugitives resolve to create the pleasure city, Mahagonny and set out to attract the masses. Once established by whores and gamblers, the suits with purposeless lives begin to sidle in, but it is the arrival of four Alaskan lumberjacks who sing of the pleasures awaiting them that sets the city’s downfall into rapid motion.
The production enjoys a lively, tongue in cheek tone that permeates into the wonderful set design from Es Devlin. For the first act, the truck is utilised to house a number of scenes, transitioning with ease from an American-style cabaret bar to an aeroplane. In the second act, the stage becomes cluttered with multi-coloured shipping containers that evoke a sense of play, appearing almost like Lego blocks. In true Brecht style, this juxtaposes acutely with the savage action taking place upon them, bringing home his didactic approach. Sudden tonal shifts, jaunty plot devices and surreal sequences of fantasy make it impossible to become swept away in the action. Toward the end, an actress begins filming the audience, whose faces are projected onto the containers to critique the role of the observer; a trick often seen in the cinema of Michael Haneke, perhaps Brecht’s contemporary.
A lively and imaginative production that is heavy-handed in its depiction of depravity and debauchery, from LED naked bodies to a grotesque sequence of a man eating himself to death; Mahagonny’s downfall is greatly and gorily detailed.