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Adam Nichols - The ThreePenny Opera Interview

Exploring capitalist greed, mischief and beggary-business mayhem, OVO, the award-winning theatre production company, presents a riotous and rough reimagining of Bertolt Brecht’s zany musical at The Cockpit this September. Maintaining Brecht’s spirit of experimentation, this ambitious modern update of theatre’s first musical defies theatrical convention, whilst aiming to shock, engage, mock and even disturb its audience.

St Albans-based OVO’s The ThreePenny Opera, supported by the Kurt Weill Foundation, mixes beautiful melodies with dark and unsettling themes, resisting the prettiness and neatness of musical theatre convention. The ThreePenny Opera explores the tension between the spectacle and shininess of musical theatre and the gritty, biting Marxist critique of social and economic injustice that Brecht intended.

This production is directed by OVO’s award-winning Artistic Director Adam Nichols and opera singer and Co-director Julia Mintzer (Welsh National Opera, Washington National Opera), with Lada Valešová (Royal Opera House, Opera Holland Park) completing the creative team as Conductor and Musical Director.

Photo by Elliott Franks

The production runs at The Cockpit Theatre in London from Thursday 21st September until Sunday 8th October. Ahead of the run I spoke with Adam Nichols to discuss the production.

What first inspired you to want to take on The ThreePennyOpera?
I have loved the play ever since seeing the seminal Donmar Warehouse production, starring a young Tom Hollander as Macheath, in 1995. I directed it at university, and was never completely satisfied with that production, so have always wanted to direct it again.

How did you approach putting your own stamp on the piece?
Because the play is so idiosyncratic, and its style so unfamiliar to modern audiences, you have to be very careful about how you present it in order that the audience aren’t confused or distracted from the material. We wanted to try and frame the show in a way which made it clearer and more accessible, which led us to a framing device of “the factory of plays” in which two inventors are trying to create the perfect musical, but with very different motivations. This helps to explain the sometimes random and crazy things that happen, as well as bringing out the battle between social message and entertainment which is at the core of the piece.

Why do you think the piece is still relevant to a 2023 audience?
The subject matter never grows old, which is why the play continues to resonate nearly a century after it was written. Corrupt police, the celebritisation of criminals and the double standards we apply to the rich and the poor are perennial issues. And the music, which is really the heartbeat of the show, is fabulous - it never fails to move an audience.

Photo by Elliott Franks

Having played runs in St Albans and at The 
 Theatre, what did those runs enable you to learn and do you go back and tweak things ahead of the run at The Cockpit?
It’s been interesting playing with the breaking of the fourth wall, and the extent to which the audience can be directly engaged in the action. Particularly at the Minack, which is a very grand space, this was pushed quite far, and this helped to bring out the comedy of the piece. Although the Cockpit is a much smaller and more intimate space, I’m looking forward to retaining this heightened style of acting, and direct address.

What keeps you inspired as a creative?
The talented people I work with. I am very lucky to be surrounded by an amazing team of regular creative collaborators, and they are my main source of energy and ideas.

What would you hope an audience member takes away from seeing the show?
I would like every audience member to be moved to an emotional response. They might love or hate the show, or the play itself, but we want them to feel strongly and passionately about what they have watched.

The ThreePenny Opera runs at The Cockpit Theatre from 21st September until 7th October. Tickets are available from

Photo by Elliott Franks

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