Thursday, 25 June 2009

Cabaret - Lowry Theatre, Salford

Cabaret by Kender & Ebb
Director: Rufus Norris
Choreographer: Javier De Frutos
Reviewer: Clare Howdon

Rufus’s Norris’s production of Cabaret has been on quite a journey. Since opening to a mixture of reviews at The Lyric Theatre in 2006, it began a nationwide tour in Birmingham in May of last year and is currently playing at The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays.

Cabaret is unquestionably a gem of a musical.
Not only does it have the perfect combination of fantastic characters and stunning songs, it also has, which sadly many modern musicals lack, a compelling political storyline.

Set in the decadent Berlin Kit Kat club of the early 1930's during the uninhibited era of the Weimar Republic, Cabaret follows the transformation from the Weimar to the Nazi regime against the apathy of the masses. Having seen the production when it first opened in 2006, the intelligence of Rufus Norris’s direction is indisputable and full emphasis is placed on the gritty rather than the glamorous aspects throughout. Norris’s ingenious juxtaposition of the debauched semi-clad and sexually liberated dancers of the Kit Kat club with the final harrowing images of their naked and cold figures, huddled together awaiting their inevitable fate at the hands of the growing Nazi party is emotionally electrifying.

A worry, after a revival tour of such length is that the original production may have lost its initial spark, and there were some elements of this particular performance at the Lowry that did appear tired and lack luster. Fortunately these didn’t detract from the fact that this was, and still is, a stunning production.

Although slightly tamed down from the London premiere, full focus is still paid to the sexual hedonism of Weimar Berlin. Javier De Frutos’s sexy and sharp chorography is performed deliciously by an extremely talented ensemble cast and Katrina Lindsay’s imaginative and multi functional set design complements the imaginative arrangement perfectly.

There is also a stand-out performance by Samantha Barks as Sally Bowles. Her renditions of ‘Mein Herr’ and ‘Don’t Tell Mama’ are delivered with such effortless style and confidence; one is left reeling at the fact that this is Barks professional theatrical debut. She is also a fantastic actor and plays Bowles exactly how she should be; an all-English waif with cut glass diction who is audaciously living it up in Berlin. Her heart wrenching performance of ‘Maybe This Time’ followed by Theo Cook’s truly beautiful yet unnervingly chilling ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’ leaves the audience emotionally drained as the first half draws to a close.

Clifford Bradshaw gives a solid performance in the slightly thankless role of Clifford Bradshaw and Jenny Logan and Matt Zimmerman are adorable as the fateful lovers Frauline Schneider and Herr Schultz. ‘It Couldn’t Please Me More’ is packed full of energy and quirkiness, and makes the foreseeable demise of this beautiful friendship all the more tragic.

Unfortunately Wayne Sleep’s Emcee doesn’t quite match the high performance standards of the rest of the cast. Emcee is a dynamic and infectious character whom audience members should eagerly anticipate the various arrivals of throughout the show. Sleep, despite being a gifted dancer and competent singer, doesn’t possess the charisma or stage presence to pull this role off and sadly this diminishes the pace and energy that is so vital in his scenes. ‘If You Could See Her’ has sadly lost its original eccentricity and instead has remnants of pantomime scene. There are some notable performance moments for Sleep. ‘I Don’t Care Much’ is delivered with subtlety and pathos but unfortunately this comes too late in the day to save this particular performance.

However despite some misplaced casting and a few moments of under-paced dialogue, this remains a fantastic and innovative production of what, for me, is still the best musical of all time.

Cabaret runs at the Lowry until Sat 27th June
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