United Kingdom Kander & Ebb: Cabaret: King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, 23.10.2013 (SRT)
Emcee: Will Young
Sally Bowles: Siobhan Dillon
Cliff: Matt Rawle
Fräulein Schneider: Lyn Paul
Herr Schultz: Linal Haft
Fräulein Kost: Valerie Cutko
Ernst Ludwig: Nicholas Tizzard
Director: Rufus Norris
Designer: Katrina Lindsay
Chroeographer: Javier de Frutos
Musical Director: James McCullagh
Many classic musicals succeed because they combine cracking tunes with a very specific historical setting. Cabaret does so in a more political manner than most because the carefree mood of WeimarBerlin has to give way to the darker authoritarianism of the Nazis in the course of the show. This touring production manages that balance effectively, but it still feels like a lurch going from one half to the other.
Katrina Lindsay’s designs serve the piece broadly well and do a lot with slim resources of staging. The overwhelming darkness of the designs underlines both the seediness of the club (helped by the shiny, almost sticky looking floor) and the grim nature of the political situation in 1930s Berlin. The sets slide in and out in a manner that can seem fairly sinister and sometimes they highlight the dramatic effect, such as in Why should I wake up? where the interchangeable furniture seems to mirror Cliff’s sexual experiments. Importantly, the audience is always clear about when they are in the Kit Kat Club and when they are in another environment, thanks to the gaudy lights and sign, and the lovely touch of revealing the orchestra only when they are playing to accompany the club songs.
Despite this, Rufus Norris’s production stamps a profoundly different feel onto each half. The first act is full of the decadence and sexual adventure of the club (even if the sheer quantity of bump ‘n’ grind in the opening scene got a bit samey), and of the sheer excitement of being in Berlin in 1931. The rise of National Socialism hits the scene with a bump, though, and even though the staging is broadly similar, a much more ominous tone hangs over the second half. The turning point comes with a masterful realisation of Tomorrow belongs to me, the first appearance of the Nazi subtext, as a puppet show controlled by the Emcee; but from that point onwards the mood darkens significantly, and the violence of the brownshirts seems to be mirrored in the sour turn taken by Sally and Cliff’s relationship. Sally delivers the song Cabaret as a sarcastic howl, for example, and the club is closed down in a mood of morose dejection in the final scene. I didn’t buy the rather crass link with the Holocaust that brings down the curtain, though – a rather lazy “bridge too far” which the production had done nothing to earn.
The cast was dominated by the masterful performance of Will Young as the Emcee. He manages to embody every aspect of the character’s chameleonic nature, maintaining his distance from the proceedings in the first half and acting as an effective Chorus to comment on the action. Impressively, he also did a good job of humanising the character in the later scenes, while still remaining aloof to a great degree, and he has a good degree of vocal punch to deliver the killer songs. Siobhan Dillon embodied the capricious, irrepressible nature of Sally very effectively, slipping convincingly into vulnerability and rejection in the second act. Matt Rawle’s Cliff, while effectively sung, was a little anodyne, though that may be the character’s fault rather than his. I really warmed to the much gentler love story of Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, embodied touchingly by Lyn Paul and Linal Haft, and Valerie Cutko was both comical and biting as the acidic Fräulein Kost. The supporting cast were all great at both singing and dancing, even if the choreography became a little repetitious after a while, and the orchestral musicians were superb. They caught the mix of ‘20s jazz and Bavarian oom-pah just right, and I really admired the way they could adapt their rhythm and tone effortlessly to the action unfolding around them.
Cabaret continues on tour. For full details click here.