Cabaret (Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre) | Review By Alison Jeni Frater

Cabaret the musical has landed with bang at Edinburgh Festival theatre this week. I, like many others was familiar with specific musical numbers from this classic musical and have listened to 1998 Broadway cast recording which features Alan Cumming a fair few times to say the least. I was incredibly excited to see how this musical would be presented on the stage. I attended the press night to find out if life really is a cabaret? 

Set in Berlin in 1931 the show is centred around a night club called the Kit Kat Club where English actress Sally Bowles works. Young Cliff comes to Berlin to write his novel and meets Sally in his first few hours in the city. The pair become lovers and grow fond of each other. The plot also follows the political standing of Germany in the 1930’s and the Nazis rise to power. 

John Partridge commands the stage as the Emcee. He sets the tone of the show right from the get go. He is full of sass and his performance is completely fierce. As an audience we are able to laugh at his hilarious facial expressions and lines. But even when he makes a crass gesture to us, we still laugh and find the fun in it. His energy is completely awe inspiring and he leads his ensemble of performers in the Kit Kat Club beautifully. John has a sublime voice and I couldn’t help but smile whilst listening to him sing. His character has his fair share of comedic moments but also moments of great vulnerability and this could be seen in his song “I Don’t Care Much”.  While performing this he simply walked around the edge of the stage and when there were moments of stillness, his blank expression was so haunting.  

Kara Lily Hayworth is unashamedly sexy as Sally Bowles. Kara is a powerhouse and it is difficult to take your eyes off her. In her first number Mein Herr she impresses us with her phenomenal voice and her intoxicating presence. As an audience we see two different sides to Sally, as we see her onstage presence when she is performing in the Kit Kat Club but we also see how she interacts with Cliff. I think Kara does very well in differentiating her “on stage” “off stage” presence for the audience. Much like the Emcee, Kara’s character has moments in the show where she is breaking down that tough exterior we are presented with as an audience. These moments were very special to me and executed divinely. Particularly in “Maybe This Time” we see how much her character just wants to be loved.  

Anita Harris is charming as Fraulein Schneider, she makes herself so accessible to the audience and I really enjoyed her performance. The relationship between her character and Herr Schultz was lovely to watch and you couldn’t help but feel happy when the pair were together. Anita’s portrayal of Fraulein Schneider is just spot on. 

Charles Haggerty plays Cliff Bradshaw as an optimistic and adventure seeking young man, who is ready to experience everything Berlin has to throw at him. Charles manages to create strong relationships with each of the cast members he encounters during the course of the show. His relationship with Kara’s character Sally starts off fun and playful and then the audience see his fondness for her grow.  

James Paterson is utterly hilarious as Herr Schultz, it is hard not to fall in love with this character. The scene where he presented Fraulein Schneider with a pineapple was so comical but also a very beautiful moment for both characters and the pair had great chemistry on stage. 

Nick Tizzard introduces the audience to Ernst Ludwig and we understand him to be kind but also a little suspicious. Nick did this so effortlessly and as the plot unfolded he became a little more sinister until a moment of climax at Fraulein Schneider’s and Herr Schultz party.  

Basienka Blake also gives a great performance as Frauline Kost. Her voice is lovely and I really enjoyed seeing which man she would try and sneak into her apartment next. Basienka did well to create both moments of comic relief in serious moments and build tensions in moments of conflict. 

The ensemble in this production are incredible. The dynamic relationships they have created make them so watchable and likeable. When they sing in unison, the audience are hit with a wall of sound. I feel that one of the reasons I enjoyed this performance so much was because of how utterly fantastic the ensemble were. The ensemble for the press night were as follows: Gemma Archer, Joseph Dockree, Francis Foreman, Sophie Hirst, Mary Hodgkinson, Sara Morley, Hannah Nicholas, Oliver Roll, Ben Rutter, Catherine Saunders, Tom Scanlon.  

Joe Masteroff has written a poignant book for this show and one that still stands today in 2019. This story follows characters who love each other completely, a crucial time in politics and characters living life to the fullest and trying to fulfil their dreams. The book is definitely one of the reasons why I am in awe of this show as the messages presented are ones that are entirely relatable to an audience.  

John Kander and Fred Ebb’s score is iconic and full of special moments. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review I was familiar with a few of the songs from this show as they are classics. However there are so many musical numbers such as “I don’t care much” and “Tomorrow belongs to me” that are just excellent. Each song really enhances the story and there was no point where I did not like any of the songs.  

Rufus Norris direction is simply stunning for this production of Cabaret. He manages to create a fun atmosphere in which the audience can immerse themselves in. I feel Rufus did this right from the beginning of the show and I enjoyed feeling like I was truly in the Kit Kat Club. I believe the definition and transitions between the “on stage” and “off stage” worlds were tackled magnificently. None of the transitions were clumsy and some truly clever ideas were utilised to make it easy for the audiences to understand the difference of these two worlds. The strongest aspect of the direction was the character development and relationships, it is evident that this has been a main focus of Rufus and by having spent time on these, the audience are really able to understand and relate to these characters and the story they are telling.  

Javier De Frutos choreography is completely stylistic and ambitious. I was completely captivated by how stunning it was. There is everything from thrilling and terrifying lifts to simple and gesticular movements. I was entranced by the number Mein Herr in the first act, the ensemble were able to work with a simple prop (a stair case) and intertwine this with the choreography. This number was so slick and it really enhanced the musical number for not only Sally’s character but the whole ensemble were given the chance to shine. Another number I loved was “Tomorrow belongs to me” as the Emcee was a puppet master and all of the ensemble members his puppets. The quality of movement was just incredible and it was scenes like these that I could not get enough of.   

Overall it is safe to say this show is a complete hit. I enjoyed every moment of it from the wonderful score, the outstanding performances and the mesmerising choreography. Everyone must see Cabaret, I believe it is a rite of passage for musical theatre fans. Life most definitely is a cabaret!  

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Written by Alison Frater


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