REVIEW: CABARET, New Wimbledon Theatre, October 26 2009
The Third Reich, the rise of which infests Joe Masteroff's book, was intended to last a thousand years, but barely survived twelve. However, Cabaret has lasted 43 years already with power to add. Why? So the Devil may well take human form as a Nazi Stormtrooper but, contrary to popular belief, he doesn't have all the best tunes - Cabaret does, as director Rufus Norris demonstrates in his revival of John Kander / Fred Ebb classic at the New Wimbledon Theatre.
As the curtain rises, we join Cliff Bradshaw, a thinly disguised Christopher Isherwood on whose short stories the show is based, as he arrives in Berlin to be instantly seduced by the Weimar's decadent aesthetic and, somewhat haphazardly, by the boys and girls of the Kit Kat Club. Star of the show is English chanteuse Sally Bowles, who quickly latches on to Cliff as an escape from the men who control her at the cabaret, foremost amongst them its sleazy Emcee. Sally soon moves in with Cliff and their love affair sparks and splutters - Cliff is more interested in boys and Sally can't concentrate on anything longer than one of her nightclub numbers. This rather irritating relationship is offset by Cliff's landlady's beautifully presented courting by her Jewish fruit seller tenant, a love to be later stamped out by the Jackboot.
In one of the great female roles in musical theatre, Siobhan Dillon gives a crowd-pleasing performance as Sally, showing off a fine singing voice, just the right side of the stridency that would be misplaced in so vulnerable a woman as Fraulein Bowles. At just 25 years old, we can expect Ms Dillon to grow into the spoken timing this blackest of comedy demands, but she's not quite there yet. Wayne Sleep as Emcee is full of charisma and puffed up menace (literally, at one point, when he appears as a Blue Meanie from Yellow Submarine) but there's a reason why Ringo didn't sing many Beatles songs, and the veteran hoofer's voice just isn't up to doing justIce To great tunes like The Money Song. Henry Luxemburg gives us an understated turn as Cliff, the moral centre of the story as his immoral and amoral friends bounce off him and each other. Karl Moffat and Basienka Blake are both very good as Cliff's Nazi benefactor and the (very) friendly neighbourhood hooker, but I was won over completely by Jenny Logan and Matt Zimmermann's doomed late-middle-aged lovers, finding love in the gift of a pineapple and losing it as the pogroms get underway.
With much of Britain's chattering classes still arguing the rights and wrongs of the quasi-fascist British National Party's leader appearing on the BBC's Question Time last week, it would be wrong for this production to leave the crimes of the Nazis too far off stage, as the lesson from history cannot be learned too frequently. But a dazzlingly portentous rendition of "Tomorrow belongs to me" and its later reprise, had already elegantly reminded the audience of that regime's fatal attraction and The cataclysm that followed, so the closing tableau of a gas chamber felt a little heavy-handed and misplaced thirty seconds before the curtain-call.
While the passage of time has dulled any outrage provoked by bisexuality, lingerie-clad men and women and (in this country at least) abortion, the songs still stand up, as does the book and, I suppose, the legend of Sally Bowles.
Cabaret is on tour.
26 - 31 October New Wimbledon Theatre
16 - 21 November Grand Opera House, York
23 - 28 November Hippodrome, Bristol