I know Cabaret, and I know it well. I fact, I love Cabaret. So like a mother about to meet her son’s new and potentially unsuitable girlfriend, I was sceptical when I collected my tickets at the doorway of a somewhat unexpected underground club situated on North Campus.
I was then escorted down some cold, concrete steps by a wonderfully camp man dressed all in figure-hugging black, who said I looked lovely and took my obscenely large umbrella from me. He then passed me onto another heavily make-upped, fishnet-wearing Cabaret girl. She wasn’t the only one either, there were about a dozen cast members milling around in negligees and white face paint, somewhat predatory. They were offering people drinks in crystal glasses, when I declined I received a gentle shoulder stroke instead. This is exactly what I’d always imagined the decadent underground nightlife of 1930s Berlin to be like. I wasn’t walking into a theatre that happened to be putting on a production of Cabaret. I was walking into the Kit Kat Klub itself. Turns out my son’s new girlfriend is bordering on perfect and I’m finding it difficult to fault her.
There are so many individual cast members that deserve a mention. Natalia Schwartz filled the role of the usually male Emcee with ease, barely needing to stop for breath during ‘The Money Song’. Jamie Ross made a blindingly handsome Cliff Bradshaw. Alice Parr was an astoundingly good Fraulein Schneider, and Oliver Hamilton made me hate his Ernst Ludwig so much by the end that if I ever meet him properly, I’ll struggle to hold a polite conversation. But the most challenging and most famous role, Sally Bowles, was what worried me most. If she isn’t right, the whole thing isn’t right.
Fortunately for Ellie Scanlan, her eye-watering, red-faced rendition of the title song was near perfection. Her comic timing was perfect, even her silent moments were somehow explosive, and I’ve never seen someone with such a mobile, expressive face. She was almost like a silent film star in her exaggerated drama.
If I’m nit-picking, and I hate to nit-pick, I would urgently say that the UMMTS need more microphones. Someone give them more money for microphones, buy more tickets from them, fill every seat in the house. It was a crime that I couldn’t hear Alice Parr and Seb Kainth over the orchestra.
Even though I was expecting it, the first swastika still induced a kind of breathy, tangible shock. Nazism managed to stay fairly well hidden for the majority, as though being brushed under the rug. And why wouldn’t it be? This was the Kit Kat Klub, what’s politics got to do with it?
It wasn’t until the second half, when Emcee had got various people up to dance (regrettably I wasn’t one of them; it would have been my dream), and a coat was removed to reveal a red armband that reminded me of the awful truth. I was enjoying myself so much that the idea of that imposing fascism being just outside had almost escaped me.
And then, with no final bow or applause, in a similar style to our arrival, we were ushered out by one of the Cabaret girls in her Nazi armband. She roughly shook my shoulder and told me to leave like she did with everyone else. We were shepherded out into a red room, lit with a Nazi flag draped over a huge spotlight, propaganda hanging from the ceiling. It was fantastically seamless and terrifying at the same time.