Review – Cabaret

June 26, 2013 | By | Reply More

✭✭✭✭✩  Teamwork and talent

Polly Bartlett (Sally Bowles) in George Watson's production of Cabaret. Photo © Fiona MacFarlane

Polly Bartlett (Sally Bowles) in George Watson’s production of Cabaret. Photo © Fiona MacFarlane

George Watson’s College
Tue 18 – Fri 21 June 2013
Review by Thom Dibdin

Glammed-up girls in scanty outfits provide the backdrop to the George Watson’s College production of Cabaret, but this is a show which successfully balances its looks with great performances and a strong political message.

The film of Cabaretshot Liza Minnelli to fame as Sally Bowles, a tawdry nighclub singer at the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin in the 1930s. The original musical theatre version pulls back from making it all about Sally, and this production finds room to let the larger ensemble shine.

Bowles (Polly Bartlett) is still at the centre of the action, though. Her relationship with American writer Cliff Bradshaw (William Brown) still carries the plot as arrives in Berlin by train and falls in with petty smuggler Ernst Ludwig (Matthew Little).

Ernst is very much Cliff’s saviour, providing him with contacts for a place to stay, introducing him the Kit Kat Klub itself, and becoming his only pupil as he sets himself up as an English teacher. Both Brown and Little are excellent throughout, portraying a growing friendship – that falls flat when Ernst is revealed as a Nazi.

It’s details like this that give the production depth beyond the glory of its songs. There are nice touches to the staging too, with subtly changing scenery in its three main locations: the club, Bradshaw’s room and his landlady Fraulein Schneider (Toni MacFarlane)’s sitting room.

Matt Marriott (Herr Schultz) and Toni MacFarlane (Fraulein Schneider) in George Watson's production of Cabaret. Photo © Fiona MacFarlane

Matt Marriott (Herr Schultz) and Toni MacFarlane (Fraulein Schneider) in George Watson’s production of Cabaret. Photo © Fiona MacFarlane

But it is in the songs and production numbers that this drives forward. It starts with a solid foundation in its large tight orchestra – who have the welly to give the loud raucous numbers some clout, but are also able to provide a level of subtlety where it is required.

And then there is the nine-strong troupe of Kit Kat Klub singers and dancers. Their routines may not be as flashy as some, but there is plenty of content and they are impeccably drilled. They provide a bit more than a picturesque chorus-line backdrop too, adding touches of character as necessary.

Welcoming one and all into the sordid nether-world of dubious characters – and presiding over it with sneering disdain – is Ruairidh Holwill as the Emcee. It is the role which Alan Cumming made his own on Broadway and is possibly the hardest one to get right – particularly with the obvious limitations of a school production.

A crucial pinprick of caustic comment on anti-semitism
Ruairidh Holwill (Emcee) with Gabriella Morris and Gina Niven (Two Ladies) in George Watson's production of Cabaret. Photo © Fiona MacFarlane

Ruairidh Holwill (Emcee) with Gabriella Morris and Gina Niven (Two Ladies) in George Watson’s production of Cabaret. Photo © Fiona MacFarlane

Holwill makes a solid go of it and, if he doesn’t own the stage as he might, he isn’t hesitant in his approach. He sets the evening up well with the opening Wilkommen and positively revels in his dance routines, whether it is the saucy Two Ladies (with the excellent Gabriella Morris and Gina Niven)  the cabaret style Money Song or If You Could See Her (The Gorilla Song) which provides a crucial pinprick of caustic comment on anti-semitism.

The staging is generally strong, with a couple of well-used revolves on either side. Tables spill off the stage and into the pit to accommodate the scenes in the Kit Kat Klub where there is plenty of business with telephone boys and girls phoning each other up at their tables.

Against this background Polly Bartlett is a superb Sally Bowles. She plays her as a rich girl gone bad with cut-glass English accent and magnificently supercilious demeanour. As she struts through her opening number, Don’t Tell Mama, she finds all the necessary salacious double-entendres, while maintaining an air of superiority.

Back in Cliff’s rooms, their Perfectly Marvellous is a light, bubbly gift. But she clearly has her American friend around her little finger.

Yet they can still slip into the background, allowing Fraulein Schneider into foreground. Devon Troup adds a grounding of reality as Schneider’s second tenant, Fraulein Kost, who has a succession of sailors visiting her rooms. Sometimes several at a time. If there is room for comedy here, Troup maintains a threatening air and is not above turning the tables to her advantage.

The girls of the Kit Kat Klub in George Watson's production of Cabaret. Photo © Fiona MacFarlane

The girls of the Kit Kat Klub in George Watson’s production of Cabaret. Photo © Fiona MacFarlane

Which just leaves Herr Schultz, Schneider’s final tenant, a Jewish fruit seller. It is their elderly romance that provides the real heart of the plot and the casting of Matt Marriott in the role, who has a great voice to match MacFarlane as Schneider, only serves to emphasise it. His key number Meeskite is excellent storytelling.

Marriott and MacFarlane bring a real sense of romance and, if their playing age is dubiously far above their actual age, they have voices which are mature enough to carry it. Which is vital, as the building up and dashing of their romance adds to the haunting terror of Tomorrow Belongs to Me which starts out sweet and entrancing but turns into a vile, militaristic fascist anthem.

A solidly entertaining and thought-provoking production, which plays to the strengths of its cast and makes great use of the considerable human resources at its disposal.

Running time 2 hrs 30 mins.
Run ends Friday 21 June
George Watson’s College, Colinton Rd, Edinburgh EH10 5EG, Tue 18 – Fri 21 June, 7.30pm.
Further photos on the George Watson’s College website: www.gwc.org.uk

ENDS

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Your comments