Against my better judgement, I allowed myself to be dragged (literally for part of the journey) to this new production. I never really got into Brecht, don’t like jazz, and as my husband rightly points out, tend to be a bit of a prude. It was not going to make for an entertaining afternoon.
What still managed to surprise and unsettle both of us though, was the portrayal of Mack the Knife’s henchman Matthias. Played by Jamie Beddard who has cerebral palsy, the character’s wheelchair featured prominently – part prop, part extension of the character. It was good to see more diversity on the stage, and I later learned that Beddard did some thoughtful work with the director on how to integrate his speech pattern into the production.
But the unnerving factor was the audience response. This show was a sensory overload, with much noise, plenty of in-jokes and the casual violence that Threepenny is known for. I found it difficult to relate to the laughter around me. And here’s the nub: when the other characters respond to Matthias’s speech and the audience laugh, who is the joke really on? The other characters, society’s foibles, the audience itself? Having grown up seeing (and hearing) time and time again how people mocked the way Jenny moved or how some of her friends spoke, I couldn’t shake off the nasty lingering feeling that, much of the time, the butt of the joke was the disabled character himself.
On the plus side, perhaps this ambiguity is part of the show’s strength. And we can definitely do with more strong and confident disabled actors, writers and directors.