Cabaret

Book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb
Sunderland Empire and touring
(2009)

Production photo

As I dashed down the stairs at the end of the show to get to the car park before everyone else (the last time I was at the Empire for a big show it took 45 minutes to get out), I heard one lady say to another, "Well, it's certainly different."

Yes, it is: it's very different. Different from the Bob Fosse film because choreographer Javier de Frutos brings his own brand of sleaze and sexuality to the dance. Different because there are songs which didn't make it into the film. Different, mainly, because director Rufus Norris, aided by Katrina Lindsay's set, exploits and emphasises the theatrical, whereas - obviously - Fosse exploited all the resources of his medium, film.

It is also different because it lacks that happy ending which audiences expect from musicals. When the front cloth flew in to signal the end of the show, there was total, stunned silence from the audience, a silence which was not broken until the cloth flew out again and the company came on to take the curtain call. Then the audience made its appreciation known.

A sense of menace pervades the entire production: from the moment that, in one of the early scenes, Karl Moffatt's Ernst Ludwig slips his briefcase alongside Cliff Bradshaw's luggage to avoid scrutiny by the sinister customs officer, we know that there are secret machinations in progress. Gradually the menace in the form of the growth of the Nazis becomes clear, as does the willful blindness to it of all except Henry Luxemburg's Cliff Bradshaw. Even the Jewish Herr Schultz (Matt Zimmerman) believes it will pass.

Norris' direction brings out the full horror of the Nazis without ever going over the top. The foreshadowing of Krystallnacht in the breaking of Herr Schultz's window and the daubing on it of the yellow star is understated, as it the final image - at the same point on the stage: high up centre-back - of naked bodies entering the gas chamber.

The point about a musical like Cabaret is that it demands as much in terms of acting as in singing and dancing from its performers and in general this cast meets the challenge. The characters whom everyone remembers, of course, are the Emcee and Sally Bowles. As the former Wayne Sleep positively drips depravity but, her singing and dancing (which are great) aside, Samatha Barks does not quite reach the mark. Her Sally is not strong enough and the chemistry between her and Clifford Bradshaw is a little lacking. Both are too restrained, both vocally and physically, but that is, I think, mainly because, despite the best efforts of director and cast, the script gives them too little depth and provides no real opportunity for us to see their characters develop. Both are comparatively inexperienced actors and it shows.

There is a great contrast between them and the older couple whose relationship we also follow. As Fraulein Schneider, Jenny Logan gives a tremendous performance, ably supported by Matt Zimmerman's Herr Schultz. Their wealth of experience is obvious. A strong supporting cast and an excellent chorus complete the line-up.

It's a good show, though: it captures the frenetic sexuality and pleasure-seeking of thirties' Berlin and clearly shows how a people could blind themselves to the rise of fascism and its attendant horrors. As the lady I overheard said, it is very different: not just different to the film but different to your average run of musicals, too.

Seth Ewin reviewed this production at Darlington Civic

Reviewer: Peter Lathan