Browsing the Traverse’s programme, I spotted ‘A Play, a Pie and a Pint’ – perhaps three of life’s greatest pleasures – and was immediately interested. Based in Glasgow’s West End, A Play, a Pie and a Pint produces the most new-writing of any UK theatre, staging 33 new plays annually. Founded in 2004, the concept remains the same – a new play, lasting no longer than an hour, each week, accompanied by a hearty pastry (or a vegan alternative) and a glass of the cold stuff.
Of the six PPP offerings for this season, I selected Morag Fullarton’s Mack the Knife. First performed in 2016, the play has returned to both Glasgow and Edinburgh as part of A Play, a Pie and a Pint’s five-hundredth-show celebrations. Mack the Knife follows the chaotic rehearsals of Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill’s latest play in the weeks preceding opening night. Set against the backdrop of 1920s Weimar Berlin, the unlikely success of The Threepenny Opera across Europe echoes the rise of Nazism in Germany until the play’s crescendo.
Fullarton’s play with songs focusses on Kurt Gerron, a real individual allegedly taunted by Nazi guards to sing his 1928 hit, ‘The Ballad of Mack the Knife’, as he walked towards the Auschwitz gas chambers. Though Keith Fleming’s narcissistic Gerron may vie for the limelight, he has a task competing with his fellow cast members. Indeed, Mack the Knife’s greatest strength is in the diversity of the cast’s talents, each member flitting seamlessly between characters, songs, and even musical instruments. Angela Darcy’s Lotte Lenya’s ‘Pirate Jenny’, in particular, is a suitably spooky piece.
Though frequent reference is made to the post-war context, the play’s transition from farcical fancy to fascist realism still seems abrupt. Nevertheless, Mack the Knife is a humorous watch about theatre-making in uncertain circumstances, and the real, bright characters who inhabited these dark times.