Thursday 22 March 2018

Musical review: Cabaret

John McKeown


Gaiety Theatre

Rufus Norris' production is extremely light on its feet – and wheels. Beds bearing the scantily clad dancers of Berlin's Kit-Kat Club spin around the bare black set, a ladder slides back and forth, similarly loaded.

For one of the show's most well-known numbers, 'Mein Herr,' a whole metal stairway clustered with cavorting dancers gyrates, while Kit-Kat star Sally Bowles persuades us what a wildly unreliable girl she is. It's a fabulous number and Siobhan Dillon is a superb Sally, her cut-glass Englishness making her more sharply bohemian.

The production's physical fluidity tends to disconnect the narrative however. Javier de Frutos' choreography is never less than slick and stylish, but we miss the significance of Sally's lover Cliff wondering 'Why should I Wake up' on his drifting bed.

'Two Ladies', with the Emcee in bed with an ever increasing number of men and women, and a giraffe, is funny, but puzzling.

Sex seems more important than a solid narrative, and we're hardly allowed to forget how naughty the cabaret dancers are, though at least most of the nudity is so stylishly done that it doesn't feel entirely gratuitous.

Norris' production coheres around the dark elements of Joe Masteroff's story, and makes the point powerfully that all the sleazy fun and games are being played on the thin skin of Nazism, which is about to erupt.

Cliff, who, in ignorance, has been helping fund the local brownshirt leader Ernst, receives a beating from his jackbooted thugs, culminating in a kicking which is both whimsically choreographed, and horrifying. So when Sally sings the signature song about life being a 'Cabaret' it's black and blue with savage irony.

Dillon's sardonic performance drives home the point that there's nothing glamorously hedonistic about burying your head in the dark of a night club while fascism takes over, indeed it's immoral.

Norris perhaps overstates the case in the final scene, leaving nothing to our imagination, but the transformation of the Kit-Kat Club into a gas chamber is seamless and stylishly one, and consistent with the chilliness that runs through the whole production.

A chilliness embodied in Will Young's nastily childish, baby-voiced and condescending Emcee, a pawn whose amorality smoothes the Nazi takeover of the club. Though there is tenderness too, particularly when Sally and Matt Rawle's Cliff duet in 'Perfectly Marvellous'.

But the real heart-melter is provided by Sally alone, wondering if 'Maybe This Time' love will conquer all.

Irish Independent

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