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Cabaret (2013 tour) - New Wimbledon Theatre (Review)


Review by David Munro

CABARET is based on John van Druten’s play I Am A Camera which in turn is based on Christopher Isherwood’s stories about Berlin in the ’30s and the rise of Nazism.

Originally produced and directed by Harold Prince, it opened in November 1966 in New York and ran for 1,165 performances. It opened in London in 1968 with Judi Dench as Sally Bowles but was not a success.

Since then, there have been several revivals both in London and New York which have varied from the original production with the inclusion of songs from the 1972 film with Liza Minelli and Joel Grey (of the original New York cast) and a re-working of the book.

The plot centres round Sally Bowles, a cabaret singer and lady of easy virtue, who imposes herself on Clifford Bradshaw, a bisexual American writer and teacher of English, and covers performances in the cabaret where she works, and their domestic life. It ends when Clifford, sickened by the Nazi brutalities he witnesses, returns to America while Sally elects to remain in Berlin.

The character of Clifford Bradshaw is based on the author Christopher Isherwood and Sally Bowles on a real English girl he met in Berlin (Jean Ross who died in England in 1973).

The musical, which is only loosely based on the John van Druten play, originally was intended to open with a series of “cabaret” numbers but this idea was dropped and the character of the MC, a seedy little man who succumbs to the Nazis, was built up with a series of descriptive numbers delineating the decadence of Berlin and the burgeoning oppression of Nazism.

The current tour, which opened in Wimbledon, is based on the West End production of 2012 and is a very powerful depiction of 1930’s Berlin with onstage beatings and a finale hinting at the gas chambers of the future with the cast lined up naked against a brick wall.

The production moves slickly between the Kit Kat Club and Frau Schneiders’ boarding house where Cliff and Sally live with the minimum scenery being manipulated by the cast.

Although Cliff and Sally are ostensibly the principal characters, the MC of the club is really the dominant character and he is played by Will Young (an erstwhile pop singer) in a performance that can only be describe as incredible. He oozes decadence and disgust, selling his numbers with winks and leers that in any other performer would be described as camp but in Mr Young’s hands they are evil and menacing.

As the evening progresses his mask begins to drop and a more human aspect takes over, equally unpleasant but convincing until at the end he joins his compatriots from the club in the gas chamber with a gesture of togetherness that is deeply moving.

This is the most striking and shattering performance of the part I have seen, not discounting Joel Grey and Wayne Sleep both of who were pretty awesome. Mr Young, however, surpasses both of them in his performance and carries the show like a seasoned trouper and I doubt whether we shall ever see the part played as well again.

To be fair, he is surrounded by a strong cast: Lyn Paul (another defector from the pop scene) makes a sympathetic and rounded character of Fraulein Schneider, the pragmatic landlady who gives up her hopes of future happiness with Herr Schultz, the local greengrocer who is a Jew. Schultz is played with charm and resignation by Linal Haft and together they make a charming couple and give the sub-plot a realistic, if pathetic, resolution.

For me, Cliff and Sally were the weakest in the cast. Matt Rawle, as Cliff, has charisma but he never convinced me of his bisexuality or ability to record the events around him as the innocent bystander he is depicted.

Siobhan Dillon’s Sally sang well but she always seemed to be acting a part with her giggling, twittering and simpering; she did not convince me that she could have attracted anyone, let alone Cliff. I felt the real Sally must have had more backbone and character than Miss Dillon showed.

Rufus Norris’s direction, as I have indicated, brought out the dark side of the period with shattering effect and gave a depth to the production greater than I would have thought possible; to him and Will Young must go the credit for turning a major musical into a masterpiece.

The choreographer, Javier de Frutos, is a new name to me; whilst I admired some of his ensembles others I found too fussy and a bit too clever-clever for my taste. Nonetheless, they suited the general air of decadence which pervaded the production.

As you will have gathered I found this an unforgettable evening of theatre and one which should by no means be missed by any lover of the musical. I do not know the tour dates but you would be well advised to seek it out if it comes anywhere near you; this is a Cabaret experience you will never get again.

Book by Joe Masteroff
Music – John Kander
Lyrics – Fred Ebb
Director – Rufus Norris
Choreographer– Javier de Frutos
Designer – Katrina Lindsay
Lighting – Mark Howett
Sound – Ben Harrison
Musical director – James McCullach

CAST: Will Young – Siobhan Dillon – Matt Rawle – Lyn Paul – Linal Haft – Valerie Cutko – Nicholas Tizzard – Carly Bllackburn – Emily Bull – Luke Fetherston – Simon Jaymes – Alessia Lugosoni – Callum Macdonald – Alastair Uffindale-Phillips

Presented by Bill Kenwright

New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG

Wed, August 28 to Saturday, August 31, 2013
Evenings: 7.30pm/Matinees: Thurs & Sat 2.30pm
Box Office: 0870 060 6646