Germany in the 1930s wasn’t exactly a bastion of forms of entertainment that took a few pops at the establishment, as the Kander and Ebb Broadway musical Cabaret revealed. Fabulett 1933 looks at the story of Felix (Michael Trauffer), the emcee of the Fabulett. Like the Kit Kat Klub in Cabaret, there wasn’t an actual cabaret called the Fabulett, but the narrative feels very real. Forced to close by government decree, Felix wants an invited audience of this popular establishment to hear his story on the cabaret’s final night. As could be reasonably expected, it’s not exactly a walk in the park.
But it’s not all gloomy, either, not least because Felix had a supportive mother, and there were elements of German society that were very open to what would now be called the LGBT+ community: there was an Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research), whose director Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) had apparently introduced the term ‘Transsexualismus’ from which the English term ‘transsexual’ came about. And so, Felix tells us, when the Nazi party took control of Germany in 1933, the institute’s archives were destroyed by way of a public burning.
Interspersed with the wider historical events are some personal stories, including some from Felix’s formative years. He knew he was “different” from early on – other schoolchildren told him so, with some refusing to have anything to do with him in the playground. His father was ashamed of him, having caught him in the act of cross-dressing at the age of eight: even a long stint on the frontline in the First World War wasn’t enough to let him back into the family fold. Felix’s presence was surplus to requirements at his mother’s funeral, as it would, he was informed by way of a terse telegram from his father, “bring shame” to the family.
Felix’s father would not have approved of his son’s costumes as emcee, relatively tame as they are by contemporary standards. A reasonably good range of musical numbers, played by musical director Sarah Morrison, help to underline narrative points. Occasionally they are a bit too repetitive, and there was one verse I could make neither head nor tail of – something about loving someone but not being able to love someone because that someone didn’t love back. Perhaps it was meant to be indicative of the scrambled thoughts of a young adult in love.
At the heart of this steadily paced production are thoughts about visibility, ostensibly stemming from Felix’s mother presenting him in childhood with a “hat of invisibility” only to be worn under certain circumstances. Naturally, he becomes torn between whether visibility is the best way forward – after all, homosexuals in Nazi Germany were imprisoned in concentration camps. It isn’t clear what Felix’s plans were, whether to emigrate, stay and keep a low profile, or something else – only that he was confident cabaret would be back, one way or another. (There was a post-war comeback, but the genre has faced significant challenges from film, television and the internet, and that’s another show for another time.)
A large number of subject areas are covered in under an hour, some of which could well be hour-long shows on their own, such as what would now be called post-traumatic stress disorder, which for Felix involved flashbacks of events in the First World War which continued to flood his memories years later. A mixture of song, storytelling and stage presence combine and result in an absorbing and appealing experience.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Berlin, February 1933, the new German leadership orders the closure of all cabarets. But Felix, the emcee of the depraved Fabulett, still has a story to tell. He has felt different all his life – as a son, as a soldier and as a lover – and now has to abandon the only place where he has ever felt like he belongs.
Set at the transition from one of the most liberal societies with the world’s first gay rights movement, where the first queer anthem was composed, one of the first gay-themed movies was made, and the first gender-affirming surgeries were performed, to one of the biggest tragedies in human history, Fabulett 1933 deals with the fragility of achievements of society and the struggle of visibility.
Fabulett 1933 is an original one-person musical written and performed by Swiss-born Michael Trauffer, under the musical direction of Sarah Morrison. The original story, set around true events, features English versions of songs classified as ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis, composed by Mischa Spoliansky and Friedrich Hollaender, as well as original music written by Michael Trauffer.
Cast & creatives: Michael Trauffer (he/him, writer and performer)
Sarah Morrison (she/her, musical director)
Canal Café Theatre, Delamere Terrace, London W2 6NG