“Gentleman, today you see me washing glasses
And I make the beds for everyone.”
So begins Brecht and Weil’s legendary song of revenge, “Pirate Jenny”. Originally sung during the wedding scene in The Threepenny Opera, playwright Nick Ellis has teamed up with the Cambridge Multimedia Theatre to turn this classic into a full-fledged musical utilising live actors and animated designs.
The plot, in a nutshell, focuses on Jenny, a servant girl abandoned at a boarding house full of rogues and perverts in a Scottish seaside town. Abused by the landlord and tenants, she dreams of being rescued by pirates and murdering all who get in her way. When the opportunity arrives, Jenny sets out to sea, but not all is as it seemed back home, nor is a pirate queen’s life as glamourous as believed. It’s all something of a children’s theatre, complete with a moral delivered straight to the audience, but one with sexual innuendo and cursing.
The cast of four work hard, starting in little more than their underwear and only taking on defined characters in a proper Brechtian manner by putting on a series of coats and hats. The three male actors (who play Jenny’s confidant, boss, and eventual pirate husband) also take on a variety of chorus roles in a series of Weil-sound alike musical numbers. Michael Fentiman’s direction attempts to give meaning and depth to the characters, but they never break past the cartoons who support them.
Cartoons? Yes, Pirate Jenny relies heavily on animated backgrounds and a handful of cartoon characters to play the ship’s crew, boarding house tenants, and other minor roles that do little interacting with the live cast. While adding to Jenny’s sense of fantasy, the cartoons distract as much as they enhance, and I frequently found myself staring at the background waiting for a change instead of the actors.
While Pirate Jenny attempts to rise to Brecht’s standards of ethical instruction, it lacks the depth and maturity of its inspiration’s works, leaving us with an immature and shallow piece that only served to make this critic wish he was at the 2006 Broadway production of Threepenny once again.
Where: Bridewell Theatre
When: Closed, show is on tour.
Cost: £12, general admission
Concessons: Unknown (the RZ’s receipt went MIA)
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £3. Forgettable and mediocre.
RZ Other Notes: Another website with incomplete cast information, and the RZ stupidly forgot to grab a rare free programme (well, suggested donation programme) on the way out. For those with a free evening seeking a quality multimedia experience, check out Cabaret 1927 during one of their BAC or Working Man’s Club performances instead - their work is far more clever and entertaining.