Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Cabaret

Joe Masteroff ( book), John Kander ( music ) and Fred Ebb( lyrics)
Bill Kenwright
The Lowry, Salford
07 November 2017 to 11 November 2017

 

In Rufus Norris’s touring production of the Kander and Ebb classic, life really is a Cabaret. The malign influence of the entertainment establishment twists the lives of those who work and play there and later goes on to have the same effect on wider German society.

Aspiring author Clifford (Charles Hagerty) arrives in Berlin in 1930 intending to finally write his novel. But the local Cabaret, overseen by a sinister omnipresent Emcee (Will Young), proves to be too distracting and before long Clifford, although gay by inclination, has been seduced by shabby singer Sally Bowles (Louise Redknapp) and is turning a blind eye to the truth about the errands he is running to make ends meet.

Director Rufus Norris draws out the duality of 1930's German society. The sign that greets the audience upon entry is warmly welcoming but is made of cold gleaming metal.  This is a culture where decadence bleeds into fascism and depraved entertainers cannot prevent themselves from marching in rhythm. The dancers in the cabaret salute rather than take bows and when the fascists begin their rise they are depicted as clownish suicidal figures.

The cruelty of the entertainment is apparent also in Javier de Frutos's choreography. There are some stunning synchronised tumbles and leaps from ladders but also an underlying brutality. The male dancers do not so much support as fondle and grab their female partners. It is anything but erotic.

Will Young grabs the role as Emcee as if aware that he may never get one better. Strutting and sneering around the stage wearing tight lederhosen and a ghastly rictus smile he looks like a corrupt cherub or spoilt child. Young portrays a nasty piece of work and a petty one at that – twisting Sally’s arm as she takes her bows. Young leads the emotional climax of Act One with the Emcee finally  tipping his hand and becoming a literal puppet master manipulating the cast into a spine –tingling rendition of ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’.  

Louise Redknapp is thrown in at the deep end for her stage debut as Sally Bowles. While her singing is excellent she doesn’t quite catch the shabby ‘mutton-dressed as lamb’ sense that hangs over the character.

The major difference between the magnificent movie and the stage version of the musical is that the latter implicates those who turn a blind eye to the growing evil. Sally is blissfully unaware that her invitation back to the cabaret is due to so many of her former colleagues being shipped off to concentration camps and Clifford, although claiming to be politically aware, is seduced by the lure of easy money into not asking any questions about the nature of the errands he runs. 

Intoxicating, dark and with great songs stunningly performed this is a fine production.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

Comments

Comment by Diana Stenson

The inspiration for Cabaret had a lengthy journey, and a British one at that. Christopher Isherwood, as a young writer took off to Berlin in March 1929 and became fascinated by the decadence and flagrant immorality of the city's nightlife. He wrote about his experiences, including the tale of sexy siren Kit Kat Club entertainer Sally Bowles in "Goodbye to Berlin".

Another English playwright, John van Druton picked up the character and penned the succesful West End production of "I am a Camera" which eventually morphed into the great Kander and Ebb musical "Cabaret" on Broadway in 1966.

This current show opens with Will Young as the Kit Kat Club MC with his head through the shiny metal porthole welcoming all with ample helpings of witty sleaze. The metal goes up and there is a background balcony with the full superb orchestra led by Tim Whiting.

Louise Redknapp delivers the alchemy for infamous sexual (heroine?) Sally Bowles but can conjure up sympathy too while she cannot see her world crumbling. Neither can Herr Schultz (Linal Haft) as the widowed Jewish street trader and lodger in Fraulein Schneider's (Susan Penhaligon) rooming house. They deliver a heart rending duo of love and loneliness.

Despite the background oompah score from the orchestra and good-time club life this production has an ominous tone of sinister things to come. A captivating show.