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Cabaret

Wolverhampton Grand

*****

WHEN it comes to musicals the honour for the darkest and most deeply disturbing has to go to Cabaret with its song, dance, sex and showgirls all wrapped around a hard, brutal core.

The 1966 musical, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, is based on John Van Druten’s even darker play I Am A Camera from 1951 which in turn was based on British author Christopher Isherwood’s short 1939 autobiographical novel Farewell to Berlin.

Ishwerwood was a homosexual drawn to Berlin by its sexual freedom where he indulged his tastes in “pretty young men”; Berlin of the 1920s and 30s was not only Sodom and Gomorrah but Sodom and Gomorrah walking on the wild side, the hedonistic capital of the world. Every fetish, every perversion, every imagined sexual fantasy was available or for sale.

Germany was bankrupt from the cost of the reparations from the First World War, hyper inflation had made currency and savings worthless for many –  4,210,500,000,000 German marks were worth just one US dollar in late 1923 – a near civil war between the right and communists had overturned the old order of Imperial Government, while black markets and profiteering had made some very rich.

And it is in that turmoil of the Wehrmacht Republic that Cabaret is set. The evening was greeted with groans and some boos when it was announced that the billed star, Will Young was ill, which, was unfair on the understudy Simon Jaymes – at least give the lad a chance to see what he can do – and in this case the boy done good.

He was elevated to the role of Emcee which is a difficult role. He is of indeterminate sexuality, equally at ease with men or women, and a character who personifies unfettered sexuality and decadent fun. He seems to hang around every scene, after all he is your emcee of the evening and of  the Kit-Kat club, one of the most debauched dives of a debauched city.

Star of the club’s cabaret is English artiste Sally Bowles, played with a mix of sexuality and vulnerability by Siobhan Dillon. She is based on Jean Ross, an actress and nightclub singer, who shared lodgings with Isherwood for a while in Berlin in 1931 and who later was to marry Claude Cockburn.

The excellent Lyn Paul as Fraulein Schneider who finds love in a pineapple

The musical opens on New Year’s Eve 1930 and into Sally’s life comes the American writer Clifford Bradshaw, played by Birmingham born Matt Rawle, who finds working for jovial German businessman Ernst Ludwig, played by Nicholas Tizzard, most profitable, until he discovers the real profit from his smuggling and black market enterprise is going to the Nazi party, of which he is a leading light.

This is the time of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists who promised employment, stable currency and a solution to the problem of Jews. To be added to that list would be communists, homosexuals, the disabled, Romanis and all manner of political opponents – and prostitutes. The Nazis were puritanical in their perversions.

Bradshaw lives in the boarding house of Fraulein Schneider, a widow, played by Lyn Paul, who has standards and rules  - which are negotiable if enough marks are involved.

Her guests include the careworn Fraulein Kost, a lady of the night, or indeed anytime, played by Valerie Cutko, who seems to have cornered the market in sailors including one who seems to have lost his unifom  - and his inhibitions – as he wanders over to shake hands. All hands on d . . . well you know what we mean.

More conventional is another guest Herr Schultz, who runs a fruit stall, played sympathetically by Lionel Haft.

While the bisexual Cliff and Sarah have a tempestuous affair, our landlady and greengrocer have a gentle growing relationship, harmless and touching as a widow and widower find soul mates for their autumn years.

Except this was Germany in the 1930s where autumn was short and a dark, cold winter was fast approaching. The pair’s engagement party shows the ghosts of the future when Fraulein Kost scornfully mentions to Ernst that Herr Schultz is a despised and rich Jew - setting in train a course of events that is to affect all the characters.

Her rendition of Tomorrow Belongs to Me has a hollow ring to it.

We have Cliff as the American with a conscience, willing to defy Nazism, Fraulein Schneider who is a realist who has overcome everything life has thrown at her and takes the only course open to her to ensure she can continue to rent rooms to make a living; then there is Sally, who either cannot see what is happening, or refuses to acknowledge it, who drifts back to her career as a nightclub singer, Herr Schultz who does what he does for love, Ernst, the black marketer, who believes the Nazis will create a better Germany and then there is Emcee and we are never quite sure where he stands on anything.

Siobhan Dillon adds a vulnerability to the hard-nosed sexuality of Sally Bowles

Director Rufus Norris has kept up a good pace and cleverly unfolds the layers of a complex story and set of events while Katrina Lindsay’s set is masterful with the gaudy lights of a 1930 nightclub, sliding walls for Cliff’s apartment for rapid scene changes, gliding ladders and a band in their own gallery high above the stage revealed only when the cabaret plays to the audience. The band, large by touring standards, under musical director James McCullagh are just excellent.

There is also some excellent choreography from Javier de Frutos with a brilliant ensemble of dancers and singers who just ooze sexuality with women in basques and suspenders and largely bare chested men providing some exciting and spectacular dance routines.

There are some fine vocal performances such as the hopeful  Maybe This Time  and the soulful final Cabaret from Sally, Cliff’s Why Should I Wake Up, and the gentle duets It Couldn’t Please Me More  and Married from Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz the plaintive What Would You Do? From Fraulein Schneider.

Emcee gives us Wilkomen, Money, with Sally, the strangely disturbing If You Could See Her as the show gains an even harder edge taking us towards the final brutal scene, a cluster of six naked men and women huddled together in a dark, grey industrial setting as the showers open and rain down upon them. as the curtain slowly falls in silence.

If that needs explaining our education system has failed.

Cabaret is one of the landmark musicals, perhaps recognised as such more now than in 1966 when its shock value maybe drowned out its message. This Bill Kenwright production a simply a sensational revival with or without Will Young. Thankfully the boos had turned to cheers when Simon Jaymes took his final bow – and he, along with the entire cst, deserved them. To 30-11-13.

Roger Clarke

 

And from a table near the band

****

A BRIEF chorus of boos greeted the announcement that the star of this show, singer-songwriter Will Young, would be missing from the opening night performance through illness.

But the disappointment didn't last long when understudy Simon Jaymes proved that he's got talent too and went on to give a sparkling performance as Emcee, the quirky Master of Ceremonies at the seedy Kit-Kat Club in 1930s Berlin.

Jaymes earned warm applause at the end of the slick musical having proved that he could handle the difficult role which is so important, particularly in songs like Money Makes the World Go Round, Two Ladies and If You Could See Her Through My Eyes.

And surely anyone's attention would be quickly switched from the absence of the star to what was happening on stage in the startling opening scenes when shapely dancers in basques, stockings and suspenders went through brilliant choreography....and a sailor walked across stage wearing only his hat after visiting a lady of the night!

Added to all that came a double triumph for two Midlanders playing lead roles - Lichfield's Siobhan Dillon, playing the sexy night club singer-dancer Sally Bowles, and Birmingham-born Matt Rawle as the struggling American author Clifford Bradshaw, a bi-sexual who befriends the mixed-up girl. Both were excellent.

Fine performances, too, from Lyn Paul (Fraulein Schneider) and Linal Haft (Herr Schultz) whose blossoming love is ended by the rise of the anti-Jewish element, touchingly emphasised as the show closed by the rear view of six naked men and women clinging together in semi-darkness at the rear of the stage.

Directed by Rufus Norris with James McCullagh's musical direction, Cabaret runs to 30.11.13

Paul Marston

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