Cabaret

Book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb
Bill Kenwright
Opera House, Manchester

Will Young as Emcee and the company Credit: Keith Pattison
Will Young as Emcee Credit: Keith Pattison
Siobhan Dillon as Sally Bowles Credit: Keith Pattison

One of Kander and Ebb's greatest musicals, Cabaret has had a bit of a chequered history, mainly due to the Bob Fosse film version that introduced some great new songs but removed almost all of the narrative numbers where the characters weren't aware they were singing (technically known as "non-diegetic"). The songs were mostly confined to the Kit Kat Club stage, ruled over by the sinister Emcee.

Productions since then have cobbled together bits of the film with bits of the original stage production, which director Rufus Norris does here with a great deal of intelligence. So we get the film's "Mein Herr" as Sally Bowles's opening number in the club, but "Don't Tell Mama", which it replaced, is overheard while we watch a scene played backstage. The gorgeous "Maybe This Time", written for the film, here with a haunting sax intro that sounds as though it is being played in the alley outside, can never be left out.

Choreographer Javier de Frutos has firmly left behind Bob Fosse—not a bowler hat, cane or a dancing chair in sight—but creates the perfect seediness with a style that is sometimes chaotic, often erotic and more acrobatic. In the midst of the joyful abandon, Norris's production powerfully reminds us of exactly what this show is all about: the gradual normalisation of the Nazis and their toxic policies of hatred in German society of the 1930s.

And so Emcee manipulates the company as marionettes with swastikas for "Tomorrow Belongs To Me", the final line of "If You Could See Her" as the Emcee dances with a gorilla brings a devastating reveal and the ending is one of the bleakest moments I have ever seen on a stage, conjuring up images of the human suffering to which these ideas, so lightly dismissed by Herr Schultz, would lead.

The first half jumps around a lot, inevitably, as it sets up the story threads and cuts back frequently to the club, but the second act has more sustained dramatic moments, in particular the heartbreaking story of the relationship between Herr Schultz and Fräulein Schneider, played nicely by Linal Haft and Lyn Paul respectively.

As the man in control, Will Young gets across the quirkiness and playfulness of Emcee with a great deal of energy and commitment, although I think he could be more sinister and perhaps engage with the real audience a bit more. There is a very strong performance from Matt Rawle as main character Clifford Bradshaw, and Siobhan Dillon gets across the exhausting energy and carefree attitude of Sally Bowles, but gives powerful renditions of "Maybe This Time" and "Cabaret".

Valerie Cutko is an imposing figure as Fräulein Kost, whose support for the new politics becomes clear, and Nicholas Tizzard makes Ernst Ludwig, the committed party man, disturbingly normal.

Overall the performances are pretty good rather than great, but with a very powerful production concept, a superb band and an ending that leaves you stunned into silence, it's definitely worth seeing.

Reviewer: David Chadderton