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Cabaret at the Kitkat Club/Playhouse Theatre

My connection with this musical goes back a long way.

The two Berlin novels by Christopher Isherwood on which they were based (Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin) made a huge impression on me as a kid through their  graphic depiction of the final days of the Weimar Republic and the Rise of the Nazis as well as the two main characters: dancer and free spirit Sally Bowles and fraudster Arthur Norris, based on Gerald Hamilton.

John van Druten made a play of it which became the stage musical – a success in Broadway and London.

Then Bob Fosse directed the film in which Joel Gray as Emcee became the only person to win an Oscar and a Tony award in the same year, Liza Minnelli – as Sally Bowles – gave her best ever performance and Michael York also starred.

For this revival the Playhouse Theatre was dressed up as the Kitkat club, the Cabaret venue where Sally Bowles and Emcee hold court.

I got off to a bad start as there was a lengthy queue to get in by a side entrance, mobiles phones were officiously covered with a sticker to prevent photography, the signage to my seat was inadequate and in German and the programmes cost £12.

To misquote Emcee “I did not leave  my troubles outside”.

The production itself was high camp and neither Callum Scott-Howells as Emcee nor Madeleine Brewer as Bowles scaled the heights of Joel Gray and Liza Minnelli.

One of the most effective scenes is the film is when the young Aryan dressed in a “brown shirt” with a Nazi armband sings Tomorrow Belongs to Me in a park and the crowd joins him.

This song was sung in this performance first by Emcee then the prostitute Fraulein Kost (Michelle Bishop) as a rousing end of Act One number.

The creeping, creepy rise of Nazism was not nearly as well evoked in this production.

I suppose a younger audience who had neither seen the original musical nor the film might have found this an intriguing, immersive experience but it was one that left this critic unimpressed.

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About Tim Holford-Smith

Despite running his architectural practice full-time, Tim is a frequent theatre-goer and occasional am-dram producer. More Posts