Show me the way to the next whisky bar and I’ll raise you a dressing room cluttered with empties. Oh, don’t ask why. Bertolt Brecht’s disciples might solemnly call it the Verfremdungseffekt, although my own affect was anything but alienated by The Royal Opera’s imaginative pairing of the playwright’s collaborations with composer Kurt Weill.

Stephanie Wake-Edwards (Anna I) and Jonadette Carpio (Anna II) in The Seven Deadly Sins
© Ellie Kurttz | ROH

The company’s Jette Parker Young Artists offer dystopian impressions of America in thematically balanced yet scenically discrete aesthetics, with Die Sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins) contained on the main stage in and around a free-standing dressing room set and the Mahagonny Songspiel (a showreel for the opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny) free to roam over a stalls floor that’s been cleared of seats and carpeted with astroturf.

Director Isabelle Kettle demonstrates an apt command of Brechtian stagecraft in a made-for-streaming production that makes a virtue of in-vision cameras from the outset as they track mezzo-soprano Stephanie Wake-Edwards on the short walk from her real dressing room to its fictional counterpart for The Seven Deadly Sins. It’s not just the fourth wall they break down, it’s the whole edifice. Thence to some signposts: a smartphone to confirm an updated milieu; a mirror through which Wake-Edwards sees and hears her alter ego (Anna I sings; Anna II dances); a framed photo to prompt Anna’s memories of family whose members invade her physical space with their imagined presence.

Jonadette Carpio (Anna II) in The Seven Deadly Sins
© Ellie Kurttz | ROH

Despite such convolutions, the drama is made clear and the score (in a reduced orchestration) is superbly delivered. Anna I has been sung over the years by light sopranos and musical theatre divas but vocally the role fits Wake-Edwards like a charm, her mid-range warmth never grating, always grateful. Anna II is cleverly choreographed by Julia Cheng to occupy cramped corners and Jonadette Carpio portrays her with manic energy as a woman trapped by nomadic rootlessness, frantic to break free of sexual objectification. She swats at invisible insects and blasts the photographer who upskirts her. In Kettle’s production the two Annas diverge in psychologically fascinating ways until Anna II daydreams a bucolic idyll while Anna I succumbs to the living nightmare of bulimia. As theatre it’s timelessly harrowing and bang up to date.

Kseniia Nikolaieva and Stephanie Wake-Edwards in Mahagonny Songspiel
© Ellie Kurttz | ROH

The narrative that Kettle has applied to the Mahagonny songs is inevitably more diffuse, for they do not tell a settled story. However, doubts over the generalised playfulness of four young men in formal attire enjoying a subversive kickabout in the hallowed Covent Garden auditorium are never resolved, despite the musical excellence of this fine crop of young artists. Wake-Edwards returns, this time smeared in mascara and gift-wrapped in swathes of pink tulle, to be joined beneath the moon of Alabama by a similarly attired Kseniia Nikolaieva.

Blaise Malaba, Egor Zhuravskii, Filipe Manu and Dominic Sedgwick in Mahagonny Songspiel
© Ellie Kurttz | ROH

If they appear like damaged fantasies of womanhood, one imagines the quartet of rowdies (Blaise Malaba, Filipe Manu, Dominic Sedgwick and Egor Zhuravskii) to be the men who made them that way. Yet we can never be certain. Malaba dons a dress to become God, gymnastic dancer Thomasin Gülgeç throws himself hither and yon before climbing a stairway to heaven… and I, having lost track of the plot, focused my admiration on conductor Michael Papadopoulos’s flawless account (with members of the ROH Orchestra) of Weill’s divinely decadent score.

This performance was reviewed from the Royal Opera House's video stream