Cabaret is one of those shows where I keep hearing the name but I’ve never gotten around to checking it out at all. Honestly, before this performance, I’d only heard the beginning parts of the opening song as it was sung by Alan Cummings as part of the opening to the 2015 Tony Awards. So, when the New Theatre in Cardiff advertised that they were hosting the current UK Tour of Cabaret I was immediately interested and intrigued. As this was my first time seeing the production as a whole I’m going to talk about the story first and its presentation on stage and then I’m going to go into the specifics of the acting found in this UK Tour.
Set in 1930-1931 Berlin, Cabaret follows the lives of Sally Bowles (Louise Redknapp) and Clifford Bradshaw (Charles Hagerty) who both find themselves not only in Berlin but specifically in The Kit Kat Club. This is a cabaret club maintained and run by the Emcee (Will Young) which provides the contrast to the rising tension of Germany’s political leadership and persecution of the Jewish people.
Personally, I think that this context is quite important. As this was my first time seeing Cabaret I must admit that initially, the constant switching between Clifford’s life after meeting Sally and the seemingly completely disconnected and random musical numbers featuring the Emcee and the dancers was very jarring and even, at some points, annoying. However, at the end of act one and as the political setting becomes more and more apparent you start to appreciate the contrast and development that these literal cabaret segments provide. These segments also provide not only a vital contrast between the before and after of life in Berlin in just one year but also a form of before and after for a 21st-century audience who may be very unfamiliar with the true contrast of life before and after the war. It’s interesting to me that some of my favorite aspects of this show were actually strongly connected to this historical and political context.
The staging of the ending can be altered heavily from production to production of Cabaret. However, I am so glad that this is the first production I saw because the ending scene is absolutely beautiful. I won’t describe it exactly as I don’t wish to spoil it but it is haunting, creepy and just a perfect way to end the narrative. As I said earlier, due to the humor not being to my personal taste, I didn’t particularly like the intermittent cabaret songs but this ending truly gave a solid but subtle meaning to the cabaret performers as characters which were clearly developing under the noses of the audience. If you go to see this performance for no other reason, go to see the beautifully haunting ending.
I think the humor of this production is a win-win situation for the cast. The sexual theme to the humor revolving around The Kit Kat Club and Fraulein Kost (Basienka Blake) wasn’t to my personal taste it perfectly depicted the highly suggestive, bordering on graphic, sexual freedom of The Kit Kat Club itself, which was vital to truly depict the lifestyle of Berlin.
Personally, I was far more interested in the developing romance between Herr Shultz (Linal Haft) and Fraulein Schneider (Susan Penhaligon). This was beautifully portrayed onstage by Haft and Penhaligon and they effortlessly made this narrative both heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time. To me, they provided the emotional core of the political background to the main narrative. This is a true example, similar to Benedick and Beatrice from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, of how a ‘side story’ can become more interesting than the main couple.
Therefore, this production’s equivalent to Hero and Claudio are Clifford Bradshaw and Sally Bowles as they ended up fading a little in comparison. In story terms, I simply wanted more from the Bradshaw and Bowles relationship. Every revelation that affected them seemed to come with no consequences and ended up fizzling out before the end. Compared to how the other characters are affected by the political setting, Bradshaw’s attempts to do the right thing and convince Sally Bowles to do the same simply fall a bit short. I think that Redknapp and Hagerty display their clear acting and musical talents, which certainly do not fall shorts, and you have no doubt in their commitment but I simply wish that the script gave them more.
I must admit that I was very skeptical about Will Young’s casting as the Emcee. As I had no context of the character I was certainly surprised. Young stunned me in his ability to literally become his character and I honestly completely forgot that he was a famous celebrity under there. He effortlessly switched from the humorous and almost childlike performer, despite the content of his performances, to the ruthless mocker and finally to the almost creepy ghost-like figure who is able to somehow have a part in every aspect of the narrative. Again, in the ending, his character is given the most weight and Young truly lived up to this and in the end, you could see that he truly valued the importance of his character’s subtle arc. He gives no hints towards the development of the Emcee throughout but when his development is revealed at the end you see just how good of a ‘serious’ actor Young can be.
My main issue with this performance does, unfortunately, come attached to Young’s performance, however. His accent is perfect in terms of sound quality, however, I could not understand a word of what he was saying in some portions. I think that this was partly to do with the volume of the band and ensemble when in The Kit Kat Club. While the placement of the band is innovative, it means that they are closer to the actors and thus Young’s voice gets very lost. I noticed this throughout the performance but mainly during ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’, ‘The Money Song’ and even in quieter songs such as ‘I Don’t Care Much’. I think that perhaps Young hasn’t been told how to properly incorporate crisp diction into his accent which unfortunately means that, despite it sounding perfect, I had to just wildly guess at what he was actually saying.
Overall, if you are a fan of Cabaret, this production will give you a fresh new adaptation of the story which benefits from political and historical hindsight. This also means that even if you have never seen the show before you can truly immerse yourself in an intriguing world and see some beautiful and haunting storytelling and staging.
Cabaret is booking at Cardiff’s New Theatre until Saturday the 21st of October: Buy your tickets here.
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