For a good number of people who work in the theatre, the customer experience begins long before the curtain rises. This is particularly true for this production of Cabaret, which isn’t marketed as being at the Playhouse Theatre, but at the ‘Kit Kat Club’, which has always been the name of the Berlin nightclub featured in this Kander and Ebb musical. Patrons attending the show are directed through to a bar before proceeding to the auditorium proper. Nothing unusual in that – there is a foyer bar in many theatres. But it’s not at every show that cast members are in character as the audience files in, interacting with us and each other, providing as close as feasible a sense of what it would have been like to enter a Berlin cabaret in the interwar period.
The theatre has been remodelled, such that the performance takes place in the centre. Both the stalls and the dress circle are in two sections, such that the cast find themselves turning, either thanks to the stage’s revolve, or of their own accord, or both, so that nobody is looking at the back of someone for too long. The cast enters and exits through various aisles – the same aisles used by the audience – adding further to the production’s interactive feel.
Set in 1929-30, as the Nazi Party was on the ascendancy, the show has a chilling conclusion rather than a happy ending. It’s achieved by the cabaret’s Emcee (Eddie Redmayne) taking up a conductor’s baton. He is, together with the rest of the cabaret’s performers, dressed in military uniform, and in stark contrast to earlier scenes in which there was free-flowing happiness and a party atmosphere, everything has become cold and unwelcoming.
Redmayne is remarkable as the central character, committed to the flamboyant role, embodying it with considerable flair and physicality. More emphasis than in some other previous productions has been placed on Sally Bowles (Jessie Buckley), the Kit Kat Club’s headliner. In the title musical number, she becomes so emotionally overwhelmed the audience is effectively denied the traditional delivery of a big showtune. The effect is nonetheless powerful in its poignancy and proves that impassioned intensity need not necessarily be portrayed through sheer vocal power – there is depth and nuance in this display of vulnerability.
Fraulein Schneider (Liza Sadovy), who runs a boarding house, ends up falling in love with Herr Schultz (Elliot Levey), who runs a fruit shop. Their numbers together, ‘It Couldn’t Please Me More (A Pineapple)’ and ‘Married’, are performed with love, warmth and close affinity that is unrivalled by anyone else in the show, even Sally Bowles and Clifford Bradshaw (Omari Douglas), the latter being an American writer who left the USA in pursuit of somewhere more liberal. He, therefore, provides a viewpoint on German politics that contrasts with Schultz and Bowles, who are not inclined to think their way of life is in imminent danger.
It is something of a damning indictment on today’s society that Cabaret is so pertinent, and not just because “money makes the world go around”, exploring issues relating to inclusiveness, political extremism, anti-Semitism and the LGBT+ community. This production is probably subtler than most versions of Cabaret, though if anything it is all the more powerful for not having cranked up the volume throughout to provide such a thrilling experience. This fresh take on such a well-known show is a thoughtful and welcome revival. Julia Cheng’s choreography is far removed from Bob Fosse’s style in the 1972 movie, but it works. And as the Emcee puts it, “even the orchestra is beautiful”.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Welcome to the Kit Kat Club. Home to an intimate and electrifying new production of CABARET starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley. Come hear the music play.
In a time when the world is changing forever, there is one place where everyone can be free. This is Berlin. Relax. Loosen up. Be yourself.
Starring Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, Tony and Olivier award winner Eddie Redmayne as ‘The Emcee’ and Bafta Nominee and British Independent Film award winner Jessie Buckley as ‘Sally Bowles’, the Kit Kat Club opens its doors from November 2021.
One of the most successful musicals of all time, CABARET features the songs Wilkommen, Don’t Tell Mama, Mein Herr, Maybe This Time, Money and the title number. It has music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, book by Joe Masteroff, based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood.
Before the show, guests are invited to enjoy the club with drinks, dining and pre-show entertainment all on offer. When booking, guests will receive a ‘club entry time’ and, for the richest experience and to immerse themselves fully in the club, we encourage people to arrive early.
Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse