Blog: Eric Potts

Bertolt Brecht’s provocative dark comedy musical The Threepenny Opera is being performed by actor-musicians in Bolton. One tells what it’s like to skip between Peachum, Pauken and Schlagzeug

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I am delighted to be back at the Octagon Theatre Bolton and appearing in this exciting and entertaining musical. In many ways, The Threepenny Opera, Bertolt Brecht’s tale of determination and survival against the odds is the perfect piece for a vibrant, exciting venue like the Octagon.

We are now approaching the end of our rehearsal period, with the show running from 12 October until 4 November. In the cast list and programme it says: “Eric Potts – Mr Peachum” – a role I am relishing playing. But that listing only tells half the story. As an actor-musician I am also playing drums and percussion in the production. We have a wonderfully talented cast of actor-musicians who not only have to get to grips with the roles they are playing but then have to quickly grab their saxophone or banjo or double bass or, indeed, any one of a whole range of instruments that we are using in the show to accompany Kurt Weill’s fascinating and, it has to be said, tricky score. Thankfully we have our fantastic musical director, Carole Sloman, to see us through with her vast experience of the genre.

All the actors remain on stage when they are not portraying their characters and form the band for the musical numbers

This actor-musician style of production has become more and more popular over the last couple of decades since the creation of high-profile shows like Buddy or Return to the Forbidden Planet. The premise of actors doubling as the musicians also allows subsidised regional venues like the Octagon to create a rich and full musical sound that simply could not have been financially possible with a pit orchestra. While we ultimately aim to create the same standard of accompaniment as an orchestra, unlike full-time professional musicians who are able to turn up and play the full score with perhaps as few as one rehearsal, actor-musicians will have music rehearsals built into the schedule over the few weeks’ preparation for the show.

I have done many actor-musician shows over the years and have always enjoyed both the process and the finished product. I also believe that audiences enjoy seeing the multi-skilled performers swapping seamlessly between their characters and their instruments. Musicals like Cabaret, Little Shop of Horrors and Oliver lend themselves very well to the style and The Threepenny Opera also seems perfectly suited to this form of staging. All the actors remain on stage when they are not portraying their characters and form the band for the musical numbers. Many can move around to play from different areas of the stage depending on the needs of the song. I, however, have to head back to my drums for each song as dragging them round the stage can prove a bit of a pain!

In this fast, fun and sometimes frenetic show I also get to play timpani drums and various percussion instruments including the glockenspiel. As the band parts all arrived in the original German the glockenspiel was the only instrument that I didn’t have to translate on day one of rehearsals. On the plus side I now know that the German word for “timpani” is “Pauken” and “drums” are “Schlagzeug”. You never know when that may prove useful in the future!

The Threepenny Opera is a funny and, at times, pertinent tale of London’s murky underworld set, in this production, at some time in the not too distant future. The show’s opening number, Mack the Knife, has become a global hit on many occasions over the decades with versions released by several major recording stars, including Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble. From my perspective behind the drum kit, it is an invigorating show to be part of and I am sure the Bolton audiences will really enjoy its razor-sharp comedy, fantastic music and, despite the fact it was written in 1920s Berlin, contemporary political relevance.

For now, I must head back to rehearsals and skip between my Pauken and Schlagzeug.

The Threepenny Opera runs 12 Oct-4 Nov, Octagon, Bolton

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