THEATRE / Johnny not-so-good: Nick Kimberley on the British premiere of Kurt Weill's Johnny Johnson, at Rudolf Steiner House

After Kurt Weill fled from Europe to the United States the first theatre work he composed was Johnny Johnson, premiered in 1936. If the work's dramatic style is essentially American - spoken text, sometimes underscored, leading into more or less spectacular numbers - the musical language is recognisably that of The Threepenny Opera and The Seven Deadly Sins. The meeting of the two idioms is sometimes bewildering but always fascinating.

Reference works - we have not had much else to go on - usually label the work 'pacifist', but it's a fatally compromised pacifism. Johnny Johnson, all-American Everyman, wants the United States to stay out of the First World War, but Woodrow Wilson's 'This is the war to end all wars' convinces him to sign up and change history's course. He fails, and pays a high price for his ideals: after spending time in a lunatic asylum, he is seen walking the streets of his home town, ostensibly selling non-aggressive toys, effectively reduced to beggardom. It's a moot point whether Weill's music mitigates or exacerbates the pessimism of Paul Green's libretto, but Johnny Johnson can hardly be said to have lost its pertinence.

A Moveable Feast, the music theatre group of Trinity College of Music, claimed that last week's staging at London's Rudolf Steiner House was the British premiere of the complete work, for which the company deserves gratitude. But the priorities of student performance are not always those of a professional production, and there was much to depress an audience eager to see what Johnny Johnson had to offer.

The two performances were conducted and directed by Rhonda Kess, an estimable Weill interpreter who drew careful performances from the orchestral players. The sounds Weill conjured from banjo and strings, saxes and percussion, had a characteristic pungency which would no doubt be more evident from a professional ensemble. Yet it is still exciting to hear Weill's essentially European ironies adapt to the less ambiguous demands of the American musical.

There was less to say for the vocal and dramatic contributions. The biggest mistake was to insist on bogus American accents. If seasoned professionals in English National Opera's staging of Weill's Street Scene sounded clumsy, what chance for performers at the beginning of their careers? Ironically, the best enunciation came from Sjaak van der Bent, whose forthright tunefulness had real flair. As the Statue of Liberty - Paul Green's libretto comfortably embraced both fantasy and realism - Ruth Halvani revealed a luxurious, almost contralto timbre, although the breath control was wayward. Several others were energetic and eager, but too much was done at top volume and high speed, while the staging had moments to make even Linda Snell blush: flimsy designs, clumsy scene changes and routinised gestures produced a sense of anticlimax. No doubt the students relished the chance to get their teeth into something that has a feeling of urgent modernity. With luck we won't have to wait too long for a production that captures that urgency.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home