Nov 18 2017 | By More

★★★★☆     Chilling

Edinburgh Playhouse: Tue 14 – Sat 18 Nov 2017
Review by Thom Dibdin

Chilling in all the right places, the revival of the award-winning tour of Cabaret, starring Will Young as the Emcee, feels as important a piece of musical theatre as it ever did.

In fact, Cabaret feels more important, more relevant and more of a political statement every time it is revived. Even when, as it is here, the balance between the needs of a slick show and its portrayal of scuzzy Berlin nightlife is not as even as it might be.

Will Young with Louise Redknapp. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

Cabaret, based on the stories of Christopher Isherwood, concerns young American writer Clifford Bradshaw who arrives in Berlin on New Year’s Eve, 1930. He’s looking for inspiration and space to write his novel, but finds a city sleepwalking into the nightmare of the Nazi party.

A chance encounter with petty smuggler Ernst sends him off to sensible widow Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house. And, for midnight entertainment as 1930 turns into 1931, the Kit Kat Club where Sally Bowles serves up the headline act.

First directed by Rufus Norris in 2006, this production of Kander and Ebb’s musical is more stylised, not to mention a lot more overt and dark, than the take on the musical that is most often seen.

Will Young’s Emcee is all style, but has plenty of substance as the puppet master of both the Kit Kat club and the show. His Wilkommen is directed out into the audience, immediately implicating us in the action – rather than trying to recreate the Kit Kat club’s front-of-house tables and ne’er-do-wells on stage.

channeling Charlie Chaplin

Suitably, there are many times when Young seems to be channelling Charlie Chaplin in his sad on-stage persona. Which becomes an altogether more frightening prospect when he turns puppet-master for the Act 1 closer, Tomorrow Belongs to Me, eventually adding Chaplin’s moustache to his outfit.

Louise Redknapp and ensemble. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

Not that Katrina Lindsay’s big touring set is all style, despite being little more than passing shadows in front of cabaret-style bright lights – see-through scrims with a bed, a ladder and a dressing room mirror for furnishings. It serves well as a platform from which to deliver the indictment of 1930s Germany, while being abstract enough to ensure that you feel it could be a less specific, more contemporary place and time.

The focus of the production is very much on Cliff, on the run from London after a romantic entanglement with a pretty boy cabaret dancer. Charles Hagerty gives him a human frailty, even while he understands what is going on around him – excited by the seedy underworld where his sexuality can be acknowledged, and rationally frightened and condemning of the political situation.

Backstage at the Kit Kat club is created with solid attention to detail through Javier de Frutos’ high-kicking choreography and brought to life with a thoroughly dependable band of dancers and singers.

The meat of the show then becomes the boarding house, where Susan Penhaligon creates Fraulein Schneider as a good-hearted widow, upright in her ways and more than a little flattered at the attentions of her elderly widower boarder, Herr Schultz (Linal Haft). Penhaligon and Haft hold the centre of attention splendidly, both in terms of their relationship and in their delivery of their duet – It Couldn’t Please Me More.

What of Sally Bowles?

What then of Sally Bowles in all this? The question that has to be asked of this particular version of the production is who on earth is the Sally Bowles created by Louise Reknapp? And sadly the answer is desperately hard to discern. She is there, on stage, but whether she is from the same production is different matter.

Redknapp made good use of her time on Strictly – enough to gain the skill to dance de Frutos’ moves, but while her dancing is adequate, she never traverses the stage without you knowing that she is thinking about every single foot placement.

And while she always had the voice to deliver the notes of Sally Bowles’ numbers – Maybe This Time and the title song are strong and bold – her delivery lacks storytelling. It’s all very well to be able to hit all the notes one after the other; the point of a musical is to give them meaning.

It isn’t all her fault – the character-defining Mein Herr is seen from back stage while Cliff’s character is foregrounded. But as a consequence it is hard to think that this is a production with the deluded, doomed, desperately unhappy, yet dancing herself into oblivion Sally Bowles at its heart.

That said, the production is robust enough to bear this strange vacuum. And whatever your thoughts on Louise Redknapp, there is no taking away from an ending that, having brought you to the heights of entertainment, leaves you in no doubts as to the consequences of ignoring the rise of those who pass themselves off as harmless cranks, whether they are lunatic Chaplain imitators, or bizarrely be-quiffed billionaire buffoons.

Running time two hours and 35 minutes
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA.
Tuesday 14 – Saturday 18 November 2017
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinees: Wed, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details:

Cabaret on tour 2017:
14 – 18 Nov Edinburgh
08448 713014 Book online
21 – 25 Nov Bromley
Churchill Theatre
020 3285 6000 Book online
28 Nov-2 Dec Dublin
Bord Gais Energy Theatre
+353 1 677 7999 Book online
5 – 9 Dec Brighton
Theatre Royal
08448 717650 Book online

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