Review – Cabaret

Oct 24 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✭  Chilling and louche

Kings Theatre
Mon 21 – Sat 26 October 2013

A magnificently sordid energy runs through Rufus Norris’ production of Cabaret, starring Will Young as the Emcee, which plays at the King’s theatre all week.

Backstage at the Kit Kat club with Will Young as the Emcee

Backstage at the Kit Kat club with Will Young as the Emcee

Set in 1931 Berlin, Cabaret follows the fortunes of young American writer Clifford Bradshaw who arrives seeking the inspiration to write his novel, but finds a city at sleep under the rise of the Nazi party.

He falls in with petty smuggler Ernst Ludwig who recommends a rooming house – and that he find pleasures at the notorious Kit Kat Club cabaret, where English Rose Sally Bowles provides the headline act.

Here are the dark crannies of pre-World War Two Berlin. A place where the creatures of the night prowl, disport and display. Here is decadence, in a high-kick delivered with both the technically ability of the honed performer and the casual disregard of the beautiful and bored.

Here, too, is the normality of life in Berlin in 1931. The boarding house of sensible widow Fraulein Schneider (Lyn Paul) whose late-in-life affair with boarder Herr Schultz (Linal Haft) is cause for gossip. But who turns a blind eye to the nocturnal visitors of Fraulein Kist (Valerie  Cutko).

Director Norris finds an unusually chilling edge to the production. The original musical version is darker than the 1972 film adaptation which gave Liza Minnelli fame. And this production diverts away from the version usually used for amateur and schools revivals to get yet darker still.

The uniform of the cabaret, the black underwear, the basques and stockings are pealed away. And just as it reveals the casually exposed flesh of the night-club performer underneath, it reveals the casual extremism of the fascist movement as it peels back the masks of normality in the surrounding characters.

Resounds with detail and flourish

Will Young is superb as the Emcee. His arrogant Wilkommen winks knowingly and beckons you into the den of iniquity that is the Kit Kat Club. There is an arrogance about him on stage, which is perfect for numbers such as Two Ladies and If You Could See Her. Yet there is room to be thoughtful and effected by surrounding events in I Don’t Care Much.

Siobhan Dillon as Sally Bowles

Siobhan Dillon as Sally Bowles

Siobhan Dillon is also excellent as the doomed Sally Bowles. Sadly, and the production’s one great loss, she doesn’t get to create the storytelling of Don’t Tell Mama, but she brings bundles of character to the role. Here is both frailty and the arrogance of youth that everything will be all right.

What Norris adds is a much greater concentration on Cliff ‘s sexuality. His reason for being in Berlin in the first place is that he is running away from a pretty boy he met in London. Who just happens to be performing at the Kit Kat club. And it is their kiss that is foregrounded as the action lingers backstage at the club.

Matt Rawle as Cliff provides just the right level of engagement and sleepwalking as he allows events to happen to him, without forcing the pace. And when he does try to make things happen, events fall apart.

Against this background, Norris pulls the formality of the affair between Schneider – who has survived war and inflation – and German-born Jew, Schultz, into the open. It is pure musical theatre, with Lyn Paul delightfully clear voiced as Fraulein Schneider against Linal Haft’s charming and naive Herr Schultz.

It is not just in the on-stage performances that this is a triumph. In technical terms it pulls out all the stops. Sound quality is used to alter place and mood on a set which is hardly more than a couple of scrims with the occasional bed and a staircase.

A production which revisits an old favourite and presents it with a fresh and even more chilling face than it ever wore before. Its set pieces resound with detail and flourish – to the point where Tomorrow Belongs To Me does not rise out of the ensemble but has Young sing it as a demented puppet master complete with swastika armband and moustache. The musical arrangements add even more depth with the live band high up on the stage’s back wall. And its technical detail – from Javier de Frutos’ choreography to Mark Howett’s lighting design and Ben Harrison’s sound design – are immaculately used to tell the story.

The production might have been around for a while, but it shows that Norris – who is to take over the National Theatre next year – has a very keen eye. Go see.

Run ends Saturday 26 October 2013
Running time 2 hrs 30 mins
Daily 7.30 pm, Matinees Wed & Sat: 2.30 pm
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Tickets from


Click here to buy the OST, DVD and novel on which Cabaret is based at Æ's Amazon shop

Click here to buy the OST, DVD and novel on which Cabaret is based at Æ’s Amazon shop



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