Review – “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”


Rough Magic and Opera Theatre Company
The Olympia Theatre
22 June 2014

The City of Mahagonny, the city of decadence where anything goes except you. Written towards the end of the roaring twenties and premiered in Germany in 1930 in the midst of the Great Depression, this play by Brecht and Weill describes the rise and fall of capitalism and materialism through the imaginary city of Mahagonny and the story of Jimmy Mahony. Founded by a trio on the run from the law, Mahagonny is to be a city of pleasure and a city of debts from which they make their fortune. However, from the off, flaws show through in the plan and the arrival of four lumberjacks from Alaska, including Jimmy Mahony, sees the beginning of the end for this city where food, sex, boxing and drinking are the only way of life.
Somewhat like Mahagonny itself this production by Opera Theatre Company and Rough Magic was overall very enjoyable but sadly had some cracks that showed through, though thankfully not to the same extent as in Mahagonny!
The performances were mostly excellent, particularly by John Molloy as Trinity Moses, who perfectly captured the suave nastiness of his character and whose rich bass filled every corner of The Olympia. Claudia Boyle also delivered a very impressive performance as Jenny, bringing a great power to the character, both vocally and in terms of characterization. I did find however that Julian Hubbard lacked a similar power in his role as Jimmy, with some of his vocals lost to the orchestra, which was a pity as his overall portrayal of the character was promising.
The design by Aedín Cosgrove was generally very good. The re-configuration of the venue, with the orchestra where the left half of the stalls would be and the performers roaming the stalls, circle and the left boxes, was effective from where I was sitting (Row B in the stalls) and, I believe, from the stage seats. However, I doubt it was of much benefit to the audience in the upper circle and boxes. Apart from this, I found the whole production design very impressive, from the simple yet effective lighting to the set; Mahagonny was really brought to life.
The part of the production that, for me, raised the most questions was the final scene. The crucifixion of Jimmy (where in the text he is executed in the electric chair) left me questioning the director’s reasoning. Was it placing Jimmy as a sort of Messiah? If he was, we must question what he was a messiah for. He promoted greed, violence and materialism. Did the director, Lynne Parker, really believe his character deserved the symbolism of the crucifixion or was she simply looking for an easy striking image? Whichever it was, it needed more to explain it.
I think that, like the plans of Begbick, Moses and Fatty, this production seemed promising but fell short in its execution. It was a daring and ambitious project but one that unfortunately did not live up to the ideas of its creators.

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