Cabaret : Can we feel the origins of Nazi power?
Money money money
And you feel like a night’s entertainment
You can pay for a gay escapade
The conversion of the Playhouse Theatre into The Kit Kat Club is a master stroke when theatre audiences are looking for something different to draw them back into the West End. The playing area is in the round with tables with lights surrounding the stage for a night club atmosphere and ordinary seats, some with bar tabling further back in the stalls. It is strange to think that this was the space where The Jungle played three years ago. Safety is paramount in this morally dangerous venue with Lateral flow tests necessary for entry.
Before the show, ticket holders are invited into the bar areas, one downstairs in the theatre labyrinthine corridors where the prologue show is under way with provocative dancing in 1930s silk and lace underwear.
The bar staff are all very smart with bow ties and white jackets. Upstairs around the bar and into the performance area, the prologue dancers tease the public followed by a clarinettist and saxophonist
The 1930s decadent Weimar Republic’s Berlin is the setting for Kander and Ebb’s musical Cabaret with Eddie Redmayne as The EmCee and directed by Rebecca Frecknall. Based on the writings of Christopher Isherwood, Cabaret is derived from his novel memoir Goodbye to Berlin and in the musical, the author is Clifford Bradshaw (Omari Douglas).
The first sight of Eddie Redmayne as The EmCee is in his bizarre and unglamourous costume, a 1930s Liberty vest, so called because they were designed at the start of the 20th century to free women from the restriction of corsets, a divided brown skirt, black gloves and a small green dunce’s cap on top of his bright red hair.
Jessie Buckley makes her entrance in the song “Don’t Tell Mama” wearing a doll’s dress. The truth of Isherwood’s Sally Bowles character was based on Jean Ross a Berlin nightclub singer whose sole talent was committing the sexual act onstage. She was otherwise unremarkable.
Bradshaw gets lodgings on the recommendation of someone he met on the train, Ernst Ludwig (Stewart Clarke). The room is with Fraulein Schneider (Lisa Sadovy) who has other lodgers, a Jewish greengrocer Herr Schultz (Elliot Levey) and Fraulein Kost (Anna-Jane Casey) who is a prostitute with naval clients.
The nearest we get to a Nazi uniform in Frecknall’s Cabaret is the red and black swastika armband worn by Ernst Ludwig at Fraulein Schneider’s engagement party to Herr Schultz. The engagement present of a crystal bowl shocks as we see it as a reference to the future Kristallnacht.
The tender relationship between Herr Schultz and his landlady is as close as the musical gets to looking at the implication of Nazis in power. Clifford Bradshaw is beaten up and we of course are reminded that being black and gay would have singled him out for the final solution.
In “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” the Nazi anthem is sung initially by The EmCee and the circling two foot high mannequins are, like the Antony Gormley statues, identical models of a blonde haired, brown suited, cleaned up EmCee. Can everyone have become a Nazi including the man who sings the satirical Gorilla song? Is this the Aryan model eugenics is aimed at producing?
Rather than the charismatic Sally played in the film by Liza Minelli, it has become the fashion to emphasize Sally Bowles’s ordinariness, her lack of talent, her lack of beauty and her lack of taste. And in her last rendition of the song “Cabaret”, it is as if she knows it. Where is the self deluding girl who turns down Clifford’s offer of marriage because of her career? Instead we have a girl who is almost brain dead as she belts out the song as if drugged beyond all feeling. She wears the extra large demob suit, again a negation of her sexuality.
I think Rebecca Frecknall’s take on Cabaret is to show how easily Fascism encompasses the nation but by losing Nazis in uniform she also loses some of the more sinister fascist implications of this unstable era of galloping inflation and unemployment. As the whole cast become clones of Eddie Redmayne’s EmCee conversion we are reminded of the danger of Fascism and the responsibility of each and every one of us to reject it.
That said, Cabaret is the best of immersive experiences in its Kit Kat Club setting.
Welcome to Berlin
Don’t Tell Mama
It Couldn’t Please Me More
Tomorrow Belongs to Me
Maybe This Time
Fruit Shop Dance
Tomorrow Belongs to Me (Reprise)
If You Could See Her
What Would You Do?
I Don’t Care Much
Book by Joe Masteroff
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Directed by Rebecca Frecknall
Sophie Maria Wojna
Emma Louise Jones
Director: Rebecca Frecknall
Choreographer: Julia Cheng
Designer: Tom Scutt
Musical Supervisor and Director:
Lighting Designer: Isabella Byrd
Sound Designer: Nick Lidster
Prologue Director: Jordan Fein
Prologue Composer: Angus Macrae
Fight Director: Jonathan Holby
Running Time: Two hours 45 minutes with an interval
Booking until 1st October 2022
Cast Changes from 21st March 2022 TBA
Kit Kat Club
Box Office: 03330 096 690
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Kit Kat Club
at the Playhouse Theatre
on 10th December 2021