The underground culture of 1920’s Berlin was founded upon a new, post-war tolerance towards prostitution and sexual experimentation. A large gay scene emerged as well as a number of establishments specialising in erotic and cabaret performance. This world-famous nightlife attracted renowned artists and writers including Stephen Spender, W. H. Auden and in the case of Cabaret, the young American writer Cliff Bradshaw.
Through the eyes of Bradshaw, played by the charming Matt Rawle, we discover underground culture as he has a love affair with cabaret performer Sally Bowles; a secondary plot surfaces about an elderly Jewish grocer and his affection for German house owner Fraulein Schneider. But what Cabaret really concerns is an underground community built upon decadence and escapism, blissfully unaware of it’s doomed fate as the Nazi administration looms imminently.
Ticket are at West End prices and the creative team ensures the production is of West End proportions. Choreographer Javier de Frutos doesn’t miss an opportunity to show off his dazzling abilities. Set pieces are milked dry with some incredible choreography that blends tastefully classic Jazz dancing with contemporary elements.
Big set-pieces, and big names: Playing pivotal role Sally Bowles, Michelle Ryan is of Eastenders fame and it’s very noticeable. Her acting is at times cringe-inducing and unfortunately her voice is nowhere near powerful enough to deliver songs such as ‘Maybe This Time’ and ‘Cabaret’. Having said this, her performance was counterbalanced very nicely by her colleagues; Linel Haft particularly deserving of praise for his portrayal of hopeless romantic and Jewish grocer Herr Schultz.
As Cabaret draws to a close, very explicit references to the holocaust are made. On the one hand it is rather admirable for a musical to have the courage to stage such a sensitive subject matter so frankly. And yet, it feels to tiptoe between being a shocking, powerful moment and actually being rather inappropriate; only a few moments before fan-girls had been wooping their beloved Will Young. Moreover, this bizarre juxtaposition feels rather hollow and does nothing to help the audience understand the atrocities that were committed.
With flourishes of brilliance, on the whole this production falls flat, relying heavily on a very strong text. If you have never seen Cabaret, I would definitely recommend that you do so, whether it is this production, the film, or the version our University musical theatre society hope to present this December.
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