This powerful and mesmerising production is certainly the show of the year.
It is a rare show indeed that leaves me so completely absorbed in the world created around me in a theatre that I forget that I’m not actually a part of it. But this revival of Cabaret directed by Rebecca Frecknall does this so well that it is a shock to the system when leaving the theatre and back into the modern world.
Set during the waning days of the Weimar Republic as the Nazis start to tighten their control, Cabaret concentrates on the seedy Kit Kat Klub in Berlin which is where newly arrived American writer Clifford Bradshaw meets cabaret performer Sally Bowles. It explores their developing relationship with the growing danger of the political world in which they are trapped in forming the background.
What is so wonderful about this production is the way in which attention has been paid to every detail – from the look of the Kit Kat Klub itself (the beautifully configured Playhouse Theatre) that has a wonderfully atmospheric and intimate feel about it that no matter where you sit you feel extremely close to the action, to the way in which Julia Cheng’s fluid choreography just captures the spirit of the show and characters perfectly. This is really highlighted through the routines for ‘Willkommen’ and ‘Money’ that are delightfully playful – yet with just a hint of menace that is captivating to watch.
Director Rebecca Frecknall has created a production that reflects the darkness of the background to the musical perfectly – leading to plenty of moments that really pack a punch, particularly towards the end of the first act. She is able to enhance the danger in a subtle way – such as when you begin to see the direction that the relationship Fräulein Schneider and her suitor Herr Schultz is going to take as politics become an increasing feature of the story. There are plenty of little segments that equally that cause a shock and cause such a stillness in the audience that I have never experienced before including as you see characters and attitudes change. It is a production that acts like a warning against intolerance and how we should learn from the past – sadly this seems all too relevant to this day.
Tom Scutt’s subtle but beautiful scenic design gives the characters and the story itself plenty of room to breathe, while his fabulously over the top and bold costume designs reflect the cabaret style well – particularly those for Emcee (Eddie Redmayne) whose costumes become increasingly important in showing the development of the story. Equally as important is Isabella Byrd’s lighting design which knows how to attract the audience’s attention to the important aspects of the scene well – the striking and exposing lighting she uses for Sally’s (Jessie Buckley) performances of ‘Maybe This Time’ and ‘Cabaret’ highlights the rawness and vulnerability of the character in a memorable way.
But oh my goodness the performances are on another level. Leading the way as the iconic role of Sally Bowles, Jessie Buckley delivers a raw and powerful performance that is compelling to watch as the story unfolds – her rendition of ‘Cabaret’ alone is something that I will certainly not forget in a hurry. She has plenty of swagger in the way she highlight’s the character’s need to continue performing, while also captures her naivety as to the way in which the world really works. Meanwhile Eddie Redmayne as Emcee is completely fascinating to watch as he really absorbs himself into the role – his movement and mannerisms are so extraordinary and unlike anything i have seen before, while the way in which he engages with the audience consistently makes the production feel even more intimate. But I also loved the chemistry between Liza Sadovy’s Fräulein Schneider and Elliot Levey as Herr Schultz which is so natural and charming – it makes the tragedy that comes their way even more heartbreaking.
Everything about this production just works. It is a dazzling, heartbreaking and powerful take on a musical that engages the heart as well as the mind from start to finish. The production of the year for me.
Cabaret continues to play at The Kit Kat Club.
By Emma Clarendon