21 October 2010

leave us nothing but grief and pain

My friend Tanya had her birthday thing last night and we went to Canterbury to catch a show called 'I've Looked in the Window at Diamonds'. It’s a bit of a reason for this but basically her dad, who was going to go with her but had to go to Grimsby instead as T’s sister was having a baby. He was friends with one of the cast members, Sid Moon, and was probably killing two birds with one stone in taking his daughter out and supporting his chum. So, obviously, he couldn’t go and C and I got the tickets. Anyway, as Robert Burns said;

The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

As a well educated member of the working class scum I’ve always been a fan of Brecht. Who hasn’t? Our favourite Marxist lovey who used the theatre as a forum for political ideas and the creation for the critical aesthetics of dialectical materialism. Yummy. And put to song? How can we lose?

Collective and collaborative working methods were inherent to Brecht's approach and one of his collaborators was Kurt Weill. The outcome of this was The Threepenny Opera, a Marxist critique of capitalism, which included the ballad "Mack the Knife". Engels directed the original production of The Threepenny Opera in 1928 don't cha know, so Marxist credentials aboud and ooze.

Who could resist such a combo? The Venn diagram overlappings of two songwriting powers Weill, Brecht and an enthusiastic ‘group of amateurs creating individual and "new" theatrical works, based exclusively in the community of East Kent’ called The Really Promising Company, as their website says. Brecht would have loved it seeing his songs performed in the privileged surrounds and Gothic arches of the King’s School Canterbury’s inner sanctum or their, er, refectory.

But, the evening didn’t start well; we left the house late, we didn’t know where the gig was, went to the wrong place at first, couldn’t find the venue and couldn’t find a parking space. Tom and Tanya were waiting patiently for us by the King’s Gate. I spent a lot of time counting to 10 as C slowly burnt a fuse.

We were dubious about even entering the venue late as they had already started but went in anyway. Everyone turned and looked at us. It was so embarrassing. Eventually we got sat down just as the first Brecht/Weill song started; which was a bonus.

The cast all looked the part; costumes were great and it really was a treat to be close to the performers and the accompanying musicians which included the excellent pianist Rosemary Rathbone. The singing was top notch. They jauntily sped through Weill’s impressive history of collaboration with a selection of songs from the likes of Gershwin, Hammerstein and Ogden Nash. Such a treat.

The theatrical ‘transitions’, including his relationship with Lotte Lenya, were a little rushed and cheesy, yet humorous. I remember her best, in my popular cultural back catalogue of memories as the SPECTRE agent Rosa Klebb in the James Bond movie From Russia with Love, although she is best remembered by more cultured people  for her performances of the songs of her husband.  

They did fulfil the purpose of filling in backbone to Weill’s story of his rise to fame in Germany, his fleeing from the Nazi’s to Paris and his subsequent move to the US where he died young of a heart attack aged 50. His concern for social justice, his pursuit of quality collaborators and his ability to adapt to various tastes never left him. Top lefty.

At the end, as the whole cast and audience joined in on a sing-along to 'Mack The Knife', no one in the room could refrain from smiling as we all revelled in the timeless quality of the lyrics and music before heading out into the crisp autumnal evening through the beautiful quadrangle and out into the city still humming that wonderful tune.

On the side walk Sunday mornin'
Lies a body oozing life
Someone sneakin' round the corner
Is that someone Mack the Knife

I really hope we didn’t get a parking ticket.