Archive for February, 2014

The Threepenny Opera in Nottingham, Ipswich, Birmingham and Leeds: 24 February

February 24, 2014

The Threepenny Opera has just begun a run at Nottingham Playhouse, before travelling to the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Brecht and Weil’s famous musical is performed by Graeae, a lively company ‘boldly placing deaf and disabled artists centre stage.’ I went on Saturday with friends.

The Threepenny Opera, from Berlin 1928, is a relentless gruesome tale of an unlovable criminal who is ridiculously reprieved in the end. It mocks and challenges notions of the deserving poor and the worthy Establishment, also of Christian charity, ethics and salvation. It is ‘in your face’ and preachy, especially at the end. The music is occasionally likeable but blunt and repetitive. The ‘Opera’ celebrates a culture of violence, and violent leaders. Although Brecht and Weil, writer and composer, had a very left wing stance, the play gives a somewhat chilling indication of a society that could welcome Hitler. Quite how it can be deemed so wonderful is a mystery.

The cast played with energy and enthusiasm. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, which helped the audience to enjoy the show as much as we could. The female singer-actors were all good, especially Victoria Oruwari playing Mrs Peachum. It would be good to hear her in concert. The supporting actors were impressive, with accuracy and verve. Unfortunately Milton Lopes as the main villain / hero Macheath was miscast. His laconic delivery of lines was flat and formulaic compared to the other cast and his singing voice weak. Overall, the company kept the audience interested and engaged, but, for me, they were struggling against a simply nasty script.

The Threepenny Opera has been described as the crowning symbol of the Weimar Republic, the Germany between the First World War and the Nazi dictatorship. Here we have leading, celebrated, intellectuals mocking ordinary people’s sense of hard work, reward, fair play, marital faithfulness and community care. There is no appreciation of the human values, just an assault against all that these self-appointed preachers, Brecht and Weil, deem ‘bourgeois.’ There is no vision of a better world, just an adolescent denigration of status quo. There is no sympathy or support for democracy, for diversity and fair play, just a glorification of people who win fights in an urban jungle and long to ‘shoot the lot of them.’ No wonder that many ordinary people were affronted and felt they needed protection from this left wing intellectualism. No wonder that democracy had no champions, even on the left wing. The winner in the real German urban jungle, the man with more brownshirted bullies at his disposal than anyone else, Adolf Hitler, was indeed ready and able to ‘shoot the lot of them’, beginning with left-wingers like Brecht and Weil who had to flee Germany. But he was only proving better at the game they had celebrated and promoted.

We in England cannot crow. The Threepenny Opera is set in London, and is an adaptation of ‘The Beggars Opera’ by John Gay of 1728. Brecht and Weil thought that Germany and England had much in common. They were reacting against the Imperialism that dominated both countries, the selfish misuse of power and position by the haves against the have-nots. They failed to understand that the teaching and life of Jesus was essentially anti-imperialist, a force for everyone, non-violently tearing down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. They wanted to throw out the life-giving baby with the bathwater of imperialism. It was not only Germans who had a ‘shoot the lot of them’ attitude. The British Empire, underneath its veneer of Christendom, was sustained by the use of machine guns against people with spears. Thank God we live in different times, aware of the dangers of repeating the mistakes of history.

Comments welcome, especially from theatre-goers in Nottingham, Ipswich, Birmingham and Leeds.

Roger Harper


Blessing Gay Marriage in the Church of England? The Pilling Report: 10 February

February 10, 2014

In November last year an official, but not authoritative, Church of England Report recommended allowing ‘celebrations’ of faithful same sex relationships. The Report was from the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, chaired, not by a Bishop, but by Sir Joseph Pilling. The Report is known as The Pilling Report.

We have here a typical Anglican, English, fudge. A Report set up by Bishops but distant enough from Bishops for them to evade responsibility. A Report which satisfies the need to show that due attention has been paid by our episcopal leaders, after which nothing further need be done for a while. A Report which is a finger up to the wind about blessing gay marriage. If there is a strong current in that direction, the Bishops can ride it. If not, no face lost.

The Report conveys this message:
We have listened carefully to a wide variety of people and not come to a clear common mind about the permissibility of homosexual sexual practice for English Anglicans. (One of us considers there is a clear Biblical mind and disagrees with our not coming to a common mind.)

We recommend that
The whole Church of England also engages in a process of careful listening to a wide variety of people and views on homosexuality
In the meantime, clergy and parishes who are so minded be given permission to conduct semi-formal blessings for same sex couples. There is to be no authorised rite nor push towards such blessings, but, equally, there is to be no outlawing of such blessings.’
(The Report uses ‘celebrations’ instead of ‘blessings’ but, as many people have noted, ‘blessings’ is the usual terminology. cf para 481)

Why more listening to people and views when listening has not led to agreement?

The Report states: ‘The problem we are unable, collectively, to solve is between the belief that God’s purposes revealed in Scripture are eternal, unchanging and consistent, and the plain fact that faithful, prayerful, Christians who aspire for their lives to be governed by Scripture, do not agree about the implications of the scriptural texts for same sex relationships.’ (para 58)

The problem has remained despite much listening. The Report does not explain what is to be gained by more listening by the Church as a whole, other than a deeper sense of fellowship across disagreement. This deeper fellowship is, to some extent, helpful but the experience of the Group is that it does not ‘solve the problem’ of disagreement.

What might solve the problem of disagreement?

Two complementary approaches:

A deliberate process of listening to Jesus, focusing on both His recorded teaching and practice, and on His present voice brought to His Church by the Holy Spirit. This fresh approach to authority might lead to a fresh sense of agreement.

As part of this process, a deliberate focus on whether homosexuality is a matter about which we can agree to disagree. If there is no fresh sense of agreement about the issue, we might have a fresh appreciation of how primary the issue is for Jesus and His Church.

For a detailed explanation see:

May the listening process recommended by the Report be more than a careful listening to differing views among us. May it be also and primarily a careful, humble, listening to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit, both about ‘the problem’ and about what we are do when we disagree about ‘the problem.’

Roger Harper