A spotlight is trained onto the opening of the curtain. A hand emerges, beckoning, followed by the rest of its owner, the Emcee. On stage an orchestra is assembled and the delightful Emcee (played with deliciously theatrical sensuality by Sebastian Carrington-Howell) of the Kit Kat Club – the titular Cabaret – leads a performance that welcomes the audience to 1930s Berlin. For our main characters, the struggling American novelist Cliff Bradshaw (Tommy Rowe), and perky English cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Emma Taylor), Berlin is a place to inspire and be inspired. However for the residents of Berlin, the emergence of the Nazi Party’s power provides darker undertones to the raunchy, entertaining musical. Sally and Cliff’s whirlwind romance is contrasted with the tender relationship of Fraulein Schneider, their landlady (Ayanna Coleman) and Herr Schultz (Mark Gregory), yet both are threatened in their longevity by the growing issues of Berlin’s society.
Those who have seen the 1972 version with Liza Minelli should not assume that this production is a restaging of the cinematic masterpiece. Noticeable differences in plot between the musical and the film mark the stage production as distinct in its own right. This alternate version should only encourage you to come and see it even more, if not to see the remarkable takes on the characters of Sally Bowles and Cliff Bradshaw by Taylor and Rowe. While Liza Minelli Taylor is not, the latter’s effable charisma and natural likeability presents a frivolous, yet oddly vulnerable Sally. Rowe is a deceivingly quiet Cliff Bradshaw, whose moral compass acts as the audience’s own, especially in the face of the increasingly popular Nazi party. His fears of the volatile situation and for the safety of Jewish Herr Shultz are dismissed. The frustrated helplessness of Cliff becomes our own. Without giving away the ending, the play does not end with what you’d hope or expect from the joviality of the beginning.
It is easy to imagine actually sitting in the audience of a cabaret in Venue 1. Tables are arranged near the front of the stage, where the Kit Kat Club perform at close quarters. The lighting is smoky and dim, almost sultry at times: suitable for the decadent debauchery of the cabaret onstage. It is almost interactive at times; the Emcee laughs, jokes, and treats us as if the audience watching are in fact the audience of the Kit Kat Club. The performances and routines are for our benefit. Beautifully choreographed dancing and singing, accompanied by the splendid Kit Kat Orchestra (led by Frazer Hadfield) are not always relevant to the plot, which for the most part takes place elsewhere, yet parallel the shifting events of the two key relationships of the musical. Musically the performances are incredibly strong. The number ‘If You Could See Her’, performed by Carrington-Howell and accompanied by Jocelyn Cox, is funny and entertaining – and ends with a twist so shocking (to those unaware) that there were audible gasps from the audience. There is no doubt that the cast are capable singers as well as actors, able to deliver a spectrum of emotions with ease. Opportunity is given to all performers – be it a major character or as part of the Kit Kat Club – to demonstrate impressive vocals. The Club members are vital in contributing to the sultry cabaret vibe of Venue 1 with their impeccable performances.
Fantastic as the musical numbers were, the only criticism I could identify was the overpowering force of the orchestra. That is not to say that they were too loud or overtly dominating, however, only that the mics for the performers were perhaps too quiet. It was at times difficult to make out the songs and occasionally even the dialogue, which could be made louder to improve upon what are already talented performances. The cast are brilliant, and mentions should be given to David Patterson as Herr Ludwig, and Mimi Von Schack as Fraulein Kost, who give captivating performances as the musical’s supporting characters. The play is tender, yet funny. Light, but deeply touching. Go and be entertained; leave your troubles at the door! As the Emcee promises, you will forget them soon enough.