Sunday, 12 December 2021

REVIEW: Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club (Playhouse Theatre)

This production of Cabaret is probably one of the most anticipated productions of the year, with a star cast and a mysterious element to it the excitement for this show is at an all-time high. There have been multiple productions of Cabaret over recent years, in the UK we’re used to seeing the Bill Kenwright production which has toured numerous times and has made a couple of pit stops in London, so this new and fresh take of the show is very welcomed. 

As you walk into the theatre, you enter the KitKat club. The main entrance is out of use and the audience are guided through the stage door (although this isn’t the case for some tickets), through some dark corridors you enter the immersive space of the underground bar. You are immediately drawn in and then enter into the main space, passing through another theatre bar into the newly renovated auditorium which is now an in the round space with regular theatre seating, two separate dress circles and even table seating around the stage. This makes you feel totally a part of the story however there is a disconnect between the immersive side of the show and the piece itself. 

The show has a ‘prologue’ cast who, as the audience are taking their seats, perform around the auditorium. All are fantastic performers and deserve all the credit as what they’re doing is intimating for any seasoned performer, however, the work they set up at the beginning doesn't seem to slide through to the main show, the two almost seem to have different concepts and ideas that don’t mould together. 

In the interval, the fantastic journey you’ve been through on the incoming is completely shattered, whilst staff do a wonderful job at managing the crowds the system becomes completely impractical and very difficult to navigate with the limited space. 

As I open my unnecessarily huge programme to look at the company, this team really are some very exciting creatives. Directed by Rebecca Frecknall, she brings so many new and interesting ideas to the piece. The mirroring of the KitKat club and characters to Nazi Germany is powerful and unexpected, we’ve all seen the piece before but in act two we get more of a reality check and the messages really hit home in an impactful way. Paired with Julia Cheng’s choreography, we get a weird and wonderful adaptation that is truly a breath of fresh air. 

The design of the show (by Tom Scutt) is very impressive, the transformation of this space is truly magnificent and magical. Although I experienced a disconnect between the auditorium and the front of house, it's a very impressive thing to pull off. I almost felt like this show isn’t in the right venue, in a more unconventional space this could have heightened the experience as this doesn’t need to be in a theatre space like the Playhouse. 

The production stars Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley as Emcee and Sally Bowles, and these two performances will be talked about for many years to come. Redmayne's Emcee is intimidating, adorable, menacing, enchanting and peculiar all at the same time. The character is used as a device to push the narrative forward and to reflect the horrible things in Nazi Germany, and he succeeds tremendously. Buckley couldn’t be more perfect for this role, she oozes grotesque class and remains humorous but also innocent and naive. A layered performance who stole the show with the title number, ‘Cabaret’. 

Alongside Redmayne and Buckley, we have Omari Douglas as Clifford Bradshaw, Elliot Levy as Herr Schultz, Stewart Clarke as Ernst Ludwig and Anna-Jane Casey as Fraulein Kost and Fritzie. Douglas has the charm and intelligence in the role but is slightly lacking personality, this is a problem in the book of the piece as there's not much there but he does drive the story forward when needed. Levy and Clarke both give strong performances, at opposite ends of the scale Levy gives us a genuine and heartfelt character and Clarke a strong and unmovable criminal. Casey really shows us what she can do within this production, a funny relief as Fraulein Kost but has a dangerous side and she really shows the younger members of the cast how to do things in her role as KitKat club dancer Fritzie. This doubling up of characters worked wonders and there's not a lot of actors who could do what Casey does in this show. 

The star of the show is Liza Sadovy as Fraulein Schneider, the landlady who rents her rooms to Bradshaw, Bowles and Kost. The realness and vulnerability she showed were that of a brilliant actor, she stood her ground when she needed but in the moments we see into her head it was almost as if she was the leading character. I will remember Sadovys performance for a very long time and I hope she sweeps in every award ceremony possible. 

The company is rounded out by a fantastic ensemble, each and every single one of them with a different personality and all stood out for different reasons but remained as one and facilitated the story with such grace and vulgarity, a wonderful bunch of performers. 

The controversial thing about this production is the ticket prices. They are astronomical. The piece feels very directed towards those who can afford the big tickets, with most of the action being directed to the front tables and not so much to the dress and certainly none to the upper circle, of which I couldn’t even see from my seat with the set in the way (I was on the front row of the dress circle, on the stage), so heaven knows what the view is like from up there. In a show that points out, in a very obvious way, the problems with society, it's ironic that you have to be able to afford this show to get the full experience. I mean, have you heard the lyrics to ‘Money’?! 

The production is fantastic but feels disconnected from the immersive concept that surrounds it, it's more of a talking point than a contributing factor to the piece. However, this doesn’t mean the show isn’t great, it is! It’s packed with some stellar performances and beautiful storytelling, this production is one to remember. 

Review by Mark Swale 

Rating: ★★★★ 

Seat: Dress Circle, H12 | Price of Ticket: £200

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