Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Cabaret

Book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb
New Victoria Theatre, Woking, and touring
(2008)

Production photo

Who could forget the famous film with Liza Minnelli dancing and singing her way, with gay abandon, throughout the decadence of pre-war Berlin - Kander and Ebb’s glorious score almost eliminating the thought of the horror which was building up unnoticed by the members of the Kit Kat Klub. This production tells it like it is – or was! – a show which keeps the audience riveted throughout and simply stunned into shocked silence at the finish.

It begins as expected with the white spotlighted face of Wayne Sleep dripping sleaze, debauchery and innuendo as he welcomes us to the Klub

Samantha Barks may not have achieved winning the coveted role of Nancy in the much publicised Oliver!, but she has taken on the more challenging Sally Bowles, and Minnelli is a very hard act to follow, especially for so young and inexperienced a performer making her professional début. Director Rufus Norris has painted her as an English rose – reminding me more of a privileged boarding school girl rebelling against her upbringing, and for me this didn’t quite work – emotions and sympathies were not fully engaged. However she goes through all the actions of wayward capriciousness and her singing voice and presentation of a song are second to none. Her rendition of Mein Herr from the top of a mobile staircase had the audience enthralled, as did the emotional vulnerability of Maybe This Time with a saxophone enhancing the wistful longing. She has strong support too from Henry Luxemburg's excellent interpretation of the American novelist Clifford Bradshaw

The dancers are stupendous! It was often hard to take my eyes off them in order to watch the action of the play. Javier De Frutos' choreography for Mein Herr is exquisitely beautiful, with some of the perfectly executed lifts and drops displaying the dancers' total trust in their partners – although at other times it could be just plain weird. Well, experimentation is always welcome.

No punches are pulled in this production. There is nudity, plenty of naked flesh, and an abundance of black stockings and suspenders – even on Wayne Sleep's Emcee – and the first act, while the Kit Kat dancers are performing their cheeky, raunchy dance numbers, emphasises the decadence and lewd behaviour of the period in graphic detail visible in rooms above. There is only the slightest hint of the horrors to come. If we ignore it it might go away – as Jewish Herr Schultz (Matt Zimmerman) believes.

Tomorrow Belongs to Me is a song which always makes me cry, as the young boy – one of the Hitler Youth – looks to a future which he sees as his birthright. This time no tears fell, although the song was most beautifully sung. Perhaps the 'boy' was just too big, too adult – or it may have been the distraction of a rather gratuitous group of naked bodies in the background. Whatever – when it is repeated at the disrupted engagement party, sung with poignancy by prostitute Fraulein Kost (Suanne Braun), the lump in the throat returned.

It is at this party that the first hint of real menace begins to chill when Karl Moffatt's Nazi, Ernst Ludwig, realises that Schultz is a Jew. He, and Jenny Logan's Fraulein Schneider are charmingly endearing as the older couple finding romance and comfort in each other's company – the romance ruined by imminent persecution.

Sleep as Emcee compères the show with aplomb, from its riotous beginning to its sombre and horrifying conclusion. The man can still dance, maybe not as long as previously, but just as well, and he is not averse to sending himself up a little, and the music is played sublimely by a nine piece orchestra.

Not for the faint-hearted, but not to be missed – a show which can combine glitz and sleaze and still tell a fascinating story just has to be a work of genius.

Touring to Cheltenham, Bath, Leeds, Truro, Northampton, Eastbourne, Malvern, Sunderland, Southampton.

Philip Seager reviewed this production in Sheffield. It was later reviewed by Peter Lathan in Sunderland.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor