City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Review: Cabaret

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 26 March 2009

Show Details
Bill Kenwright and Birmingham Repertory Theatre production
Rufus Norris (Director), Katrina Lindsay (designer) Javier de Frutus (choreography), Tom de Keyser (Musical director)
Samantha Barks (Sally Bowles), Wayne Sleep (Emcee), Jenny Logan (Fraulein Schneider), Henry Luxemburg (Clifford Bradshaw), Hendrick January (Bobby), Matt Zimmerman (Herr Schultz), Alastair Postlethwaite (Rudy), Benjamin Timothy (Victor)
Running time: 

Kander and Ebbs 1966 musical Cabaret is based on Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood, his memoirs of Berlin in the early 1930s, later adapted by into a play by John Van Druten, I Am a Camera.  A giant purple neon sign stands centre stage, WillkOmmen, with the O denoting the shutter of a camera. The shutter whirrs and we enter the opening scene of Berlin railway station, the puffing smoke, the rushing crowds of fur-coated women and smart young men.

Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer (sensitively played with a coy naivety by Henry Luxemburg), has just arrived to write a novel and teach English. "I am a camera with its shutter open, quietly passive, recording, not thinking" the story begins.  Through Bradshaw's eyes we follow his experience, sights and sounds, the music and madness of the Kit Kat Club, his encounter with the mad, bad and dangerous Sally Bowles, amidst the early rise of Fascist Germany.

Many will recall the glitz and glamour of Cabaret the movie and the irresistibly crazy performance by Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles. In this production it's Samantha Barks, the 18 year old finalist in the BBC talent show, "I'd Do Anything" and this is her professional theatrical debut. Is she too young for such a role, one may ask?  Minnelli was an experienced Broadway star (aged  26) when she played Sally; the late Natasha Richardson was 34 when she won a Tony for the role opposite Alan Cumming as the Emcee.

In the original Isherwood story, Sally is in fact a 19 year old upper middle class English girl. Samantha certainly has the fresh, happy go lucky youthfulness, giggling into her gin, flirting and flaunting herself on Dahling Cliff and all the men around her.

Belting out ballads such as "Maybe This Time" she definitely has a velvety smooth, mature voice. But whether she can portray the underlying emotion and complex personality I am not convinced. Richardson called it a "bitch of a part." Sally is a girl who has experienced numerous affairs and had an abortion, showing an outward tough cookie character while beneath the skin lies a sense of tragic vulnerability, as fragile as the shell of her prairie oyster eggs.

Veteran star dancer Wayne Sleep as the Emcee, master of ceremonies, sets the pace and taste of the seedy, sexy nighclub ambience from the word go. Dressed in black leather hotpants, suspenders and stockings, he invites us into the wild and wonderful world of the cabaret, where the girls are beautiful and the boys are even more beautiful.

The minimalist set is based around Fraulein Schneider's boarding guesthouse, with a two floor grid of bedrooms, a design which doubles as the Kit Kat club stage. Tall ladders and steel platforms are wheeled, pushed and pulled across the stage on which Emcee, Sally and the cabaret troupe sing and dance. Movement might be a more appropriate word as there are few glitzy dance routines in this show. If you are expecting Bob Fosse's slick, raunchy ensembles with bentwood chairs, the choreography by Javier de Frutos unfortunately lacks the Broadway/Hollywood razzmatazz.

What director Rufus Norris does achieve however is dramatising the sense of period, the bisexual decadence of Berlin nightlife as well as the pervading, sinister atmosphere of growing Nazi presence and power: the sudden appearance of Swastika armbands and flags; the solo voice of Hans, a young blond boy singing "Tomorrow belongs to me"; the smashed window of Herr Schultz's fruit shop. And as the laughter, music and party mood continues to fill the smoky Kit Kat club, we see a dark and chilling vision of the gas chambers to come.

Edinburgh Playhouse - 23rd to 28th March, 2009

Glasgow Theatre Royal - 30th March to 4th April, 2009