Arts

Jayne Wisener, from Cinderella to a gangster's wife – all while coping with turning 30

Having performed with Johnny Depp, in The Inbetweeners and most recently in panto opposite soap stars Michelle Collins and Paul Nicholls, Coleraine actress Jayne Wisener returns to the Belfast stage in darkly comic musical drama The Threepenny Opera. She told Jenny Lee about it

Coleraine actress Jayne Wisener plays the role of Polly Peachum in Northern Ireland Opera and the Lyric Theatre's production of The Threepenny Opera

MACK the Knife is a song familiar to most ­– from it's 1959 hit by American singer Bobby Darin, to covers by Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Robbie Williams.

It's the hit song, and a character, from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera, which was credited as being the first piece of popular musical theatre when it premiered in Berlin in 1928 and was described in it's opening lines as 'the beggars opera', signalling it's intention to appeal to the masses.

This winter Northern Ireland Opera and the Lyric Theatre bring their production of The Threepenny Opera to the stage, giving it a twist that's, according to Coleraine actress Jayne Wisener, who plays Mack the Knife's wife Polly Peachum, "out of this world".

"Although the dialect has not changed, this production is very unique. We certainly aren't wearing corsets. We are styled in such a way that we almost look not real and are from no time at all."

The plot revolves around the antics of celebrity Mack the Knife's secret marriage to Polly and the quest for revenge by her father, London's most successful conman. Through the on-stage double dealings, double crossings, cynicism and exploitation, the play is holding a mirror up to modern society.

"The play does deal with trust and I guess if there was a message we were to leave audiences with it's 'here's life – you can change your own ending'," says Wisener.

Directed by Northern Ireland Opera artistic director Walter Sutcliffe, with music conducted by Hard Rain Soloist Ensemble conductor Sinead Hayes, the production features some of Northern Ireland's best musical theatre talent including Mark Dugdale, Kerri Quinn, Brigid Shine and internationally renowned baritone Steven Page.

Wisener, who returned to Belfast for rehearsals the day after finishing her run as Cinderella in Dartford, alongside Michelle Collins, Louis Spence and Paul Nicholls, is relishing in her role as Polly Peachum – though the character is not as she first read during auditions.

"I've gone from singing pop songs in panto to a high class musical theatre opera which is very challenging vocally, but I'm loving it. When I first read the role of Polly I thought she was pathetic, but then the director made me realise she was acting like that deliberately to make people feel she was weak. Actually she is very ambitious, independent and a fascinating figure as the play progresses."

Her favourite song in the play is Jealousy, a duet she sings with actress Brigid Shine.

"It's fun for both of us. We are polar opposites we sing throughout having a fight with each other."

Although asked for ID in an off-licence last year, Wisener is still trying struggling to come to terms with turning 30.

"It's all in my head. I suppose I would have hoped to have achieved more by the time I turned 30. I assumed I'd have kids by now, but it hasn't felt right yet, because of work. My husband turned 40 in October, so that made me feel slightly better," laughs the actress, who married English banker Wayne Austin five years ago.

Wisener first came to prominence as an 18-year-old, when she landed a lead role as Johanna in the movie Sweeney Todd, alongside A-lister Johnny Depp. She went on to combine stage work with roles in the Channel 4 comedy The Inbetweeners and in the BBC Northern Ireland drama 6 Degrees, which involved some risqué scenes.

"When I'm filming kissing scenes or scenes where I have my clothes off, I don't really worry or think about what I'm doing – it's just work. But when it comes to family or my husband watching me on television I do get embarrassed," she laughs.

Professionally Wisener is still holding on to her "American dream" and although she would like to work in the US, she would prefer to move from Kent to her native Northern Ireland.

"I would like to do more TV, but I just want to work and challenge myself to do different things. I'm starting that with this show and my first time on stage at the Lyric theatre. But from period drama to sci-fi, anything goes – I will see what other opportunities come my way" says Wisener, who cites Jennifer Lawrence and Anna Kendrick as the actresses she admires.

Next up for her is the filming of a post-apocalyptic two-hander film short set in Scotland, alongside Brian McCardie, which has been commissioned for the Berlin Film Festival.

:: The Threepenny Opera runs at Belfast's Lyric Theatre from January 27 until February 10. See Lyrictheatre.co.uk

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