Friday, 30 August 2019

REVIEW: Cabaret at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

To say this production of Cabaret doesn’t shy away from the darkness of the era in which it is set is an understatement. It positively embraces it. In doing so the awful rise of the Nazis is made more real and the resonances with our 21stcentury world more powerful.

Rufus Norris’s direction sets out to unsettle us. Despite the jolly banjos and honky-tonk piano in the band playing Kander and Ebb’s oh-so accessible tunes, the setting in a Berlin ‘Kabaret’, the Kit Kat Club, is unnerving from the start. John Partridge as Emcee establishes the tone as he welcomes us, peering eerily from an out-sized camera iris (a reference to I Am a Camera, the play on which the show is based). Throughout he gives a hugely committed performance, becoming more weird and perverse with each number. Like the stories about frogs gradually boiled to death by slowly heating water, we too are gradually seduced by the apparent glamour and sparkle of the entertainment he presents for us, only too late realising the awful truth about the story we are being told.

Oblivious to what’s going on around her is Sally Bowles. She blithely ignores the news and the evidence of her own eyes, simply seeing the Kit Kat club where she performs as a vehicle for her own talents. Played by Kara Lily Hayworth, we see Sally grow through her songs. Her multi-layered interpretation shows us Sally Bowles as performer, as na├»ve, as vulnerable and, in the title number towards the end of the show, as awakening to what the world is really like.

Charles Hagerty’s performance as Cliff Bradshaw, Sally’s lover, provides her and us with an anchor in an unstable world, although he has to lead a double life disguising his bisexuality. Hagerty’s experience in the role (he has played it before) seems to provide depth and honesty in a part which could easily be eclipsed by the more showy turns of Sally and Emcee.

A big part of the story concerns Sally and Cliff’s landlady Fraulein Schneider and her relationship with Herr Schultz, who woos her with fruit from his shop. James Paterson is wonderfully warm and touching as Herr Schultz. Anita Harris as Fraulein Schneider meanwhile was, for me, a revelation. A brilliantly under-stated and subtle performance brought this stoic woman alive and, by doing so, the whole context of the show was made crystal clear. 

With a crisp on-set band (“Even the orchestra is beautiful!”, to quote Emcee) and a brooding set whose only colour is from the lights of the Kit Kat Club, this is a slick West End quality show with more depth than most while still being a cracking good musical. 

If you’ve only seen the film then you’ve only really seen half the show. This provides the full experience and is, as the standing ovation at the opening night confirmed, a genuine must-see. 

Review by: John Charles

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: L34 | Price of ticket: £41

*Production Photos from previous tour*
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