Wiemer cabaret comes to Summerhall

Jan 19 2014 | By More

1933: Eine nacht Im Kabarett; 2014: A night in politics

1933: Eine nacht Im Kabarett,

1933: Eine nacht Im Kabarett publicity image

By Thom Dibdin

Bursting into the new year, Edinburgh’s fringe companies are making their mark this week with a sensual, politically-charged production which makes direct comparisons between the rise of the NSP in 1930s Germany and Europe today.

The immersive play takes place, quite appropriately, in the Dissection Room of Summerhall, which has been turned into Anke’s, “Berlin’s most seditious nightspot”. And is quite specifically set on 30th January 1933, the night Germany hailed Hitler as its new chancellor.

Here, Susanna Mulvilhill of Sporadic Music, teams up with Jen McGregor’s Tighlaced Theatre, to create a piece which plays out with all the sensuality and tawdry excess of a Weimer cabaret of the period, and in which the audience witness both to a cabaret performance, and a piece of theatre.

The idea of 1933: Eine nacht Im Kabarett came to Mulfilhill three years ago, she told Æ.

“After the financial crash in 2008 I saw some similarities between what was happening in Europe then, with what happened after the crash of 1929, especially in places like Greece,” she said.

When a friend speculated that if the Euro were to fail, Europe would be heading for war within a decade, she began to wonder about the psyche of the people who supported the Nazis initially, and about public feeling and discontentment.

“I wanted to do something that highlighted the parallels between then and now,” she says. “There’s a line in the play: ‘It seems to me it’s always easiest to blame outsiders for our own problems’ – and I guess that’s the sentiment I’m trying to explore.”

Mulvihill’s background was originally in music, she is a much-lauded songwriter and performer. Heavily influenced by the likes of Camille O’Sullivan, she was already a fan of cabaret of the Weimer era, to it seemed like a natural place to begin to explore her ideas.

“You can say anything at a cabaret as long as you say it with a smile,” she says. “The cabaret of Weimar was uncensored and anything was fair game for satire and ridicule. Almost immediately after Hitler became chancellor art, especially the cabaret, started to be censored. Clubs were shut, books burned, galleries emptied of ‘inappropriate’ art.

“I love slightly unsettling people…”

“By setting the production in a cabaret it gave us a good vehicle to give a suggestion of the change coming; of unease, as well as being a good setting to challenge our audience and give them something to think about.”

Politics and corsetry apart, the big question is how much the audience’s perception of the production will be coloured by the iconic, stylised imagery of Bob Fosse’s film version of the Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret.

While conceding that it will be hard to escape comparisons to the film, Mulvihill says the company is trying to maintain a certain distance to it. She points out that while Cabaret was a comment on then, her piece is using that era to comment on now. And being immersive, she is going for a more truthful approach rather than Fosse’s stylised version of reality.

Immersive theatre is a new experience to Mulvihill, although her songwriting style was very off-the-wall while in her performances she never held back from jumping on laps with a head mic on.

“I love the impact you can make by involving an audience, and I love slightly unsettling people” she says. “Ideally people will come dressed for the occasion, but it’s not essential. Drinks will be served throughout and it’s a more relaxed set up than traditional theatre, which hopefully will make the tension all the more potent for the audience.

“Things happen all around the room, with some conversations taking place over others so people won’t necessarily pick up every single detail – if they come on different nights and sit in different places they will probably experience it in an entirely different way. Or you could just ignore the ‘play’ part and enjoy the cabaret!”

If Mulvihill is the writer and director of the production this is very much a collaboration with Jen McGregor of Tightlaced Theatre. As a fan of immersive theatre and of doing theatre in interesting places McGregor has provided a great partner for the project.

“Jen’s been dramaturg for the piece as well as taking care of a lot of the production side of things,” says Mulvihil. “She’s been a big part of story development and with the historical detail for set and costume. We’ve been using Jen’s Affectable Acting technique for the rehearsal process and he has been a wonderful advisor for all things directorial and we’ve been using her studio for rehearsals.

“I cannot speak highly enough of Jen – she works so hard for theatre in Edinburgh, especially at the fringe end which is so often ignored by funding bodies. She’s been great for offering opinions and advice to me – this is my first time directing such a big piece and without her the whole thing would never have come about. I sometimes rue the day when I brought the idea to her and she said: ‘Go on then’, though. Now I only have myself to blame…”


1933: Eine nacht Im Kabarett; The Dissection Room,  Summerhall, 1 Summerhall EH9 1PL
Weds 22 Jan – Sun 2 Feb, 2014. Daily, 7.30pm. Details and tickets from: www.summerhall.co.uk


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