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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.


The Seven Deadly Sins
Opera North   Spring 2022

This song cycle with dance, created in 1932 by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, shows both writer and composer at their inventive and wickedly satiric best, and this production by Opera North is thoroughly enjoyable.

Brecht's libretto imagines two sisters from Louisiana who travel America for seven years to send money home to their family and also save up enough to build a house they can retire to.

That sentence requires some unpacking. The sisters are both named Anna one generally sings and the other mainly dances and the text suggests openly that they might be aspects of the same person.

And like the London of The Threepenny Opera and the Chicago of Arturo Ui, Louisiana and the various cities the sisters visit are totally imaginary places. In only one case in Los Angeles Anna gets a job in the movies is there any real point to the place names.

What is pointed is that in every city the dancing Anna is accused of one of the Seven Deadly Sins while the singing Anna draws a cautionary moral lesson from her sister's lapse.

It may take you a couple of episodes to spot what Brecht is really up to and since you are meant to spot it I won't apologise for a spoiler. In each case what is damned as sin is actually normal or even admirable human behaviour.

Pride involves dancing Anna getting a job in a cabaret and trying to dance beautifully when all the punters want is a stripper. Gluttony is her joining a ballet company and having trouble meeting the anorexic weight limits demanded of her. Lust is falling in love with a poor boy instead of reserving her favours for a rich sugar daddy, and so on.

The real targets of the show's anger are the societal hypocrisy and (surprise!) capitalism that make the judgements.

In the last case Envy even singing Anna admits to yearning for a world in which ordinary human virtues could exist, but up to that point it is she who has to deliver the moral, in aphorisms that sound straight out of The Threepenny Opera: 'You must tolerate abuses or you won't be tolerated,' or 'Pride is fine if you don't need the money.'

Brecht is almost pixieish in his sly wit, the English language text by Michael Feingold is pithily to-the-point, and Weill's music is equally subversive note how in the final scene the sung words declare a happy ending while the music denies it with every note.

In this Opera North production Wallis Giunta sings Anna's warnings and condemnations of her sister with a straight face while still conveying Brecht's double meanings, and Shelley Eva Haden acts as well as dances James Holmes's simultaneously jagged and beautiful choreography.

At forty minutes the piece says what it has to say with terse precision, but the thoughts and emotions it generates will linger on.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review of The Seven Deadly Sins - Opera North online 2022