Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 26th November, 2013
“Due to illness, Mr Will Young will not be appearing.”
A cry goes up and fills the auditorium will dismay. So many people have booked tickets precisely because Mr Will Young is top of the bill. But that’s live theatre for you. Another aspect of live theatre is that such an eventuality allows the understudy to step up and have his moment in the limelight. Enter Simon Jaymes who is more than up to the rigours of the challenge. In fact, without the star player, I am reminded that the Emcee is an incidental role. He and his raucous troupe of chorus girls (and chorus boys in this production) function as something of a Greek Chorus, providing musical interludes and commentary on the main action.
The main action concerns the arrival of American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Matt Rawle) in 1930s Berlin. He is a not-so-innocent abroad and, having rented a room, meets and has flings with all sorts. Rawle is the most ‘normal’ (perhaps ‘grounded’ is a better term) figure on stage. We encounter the other characters and Berlin through his eyes. He is the ‘straight’ man, so to speak, although Bradshaw (suggested by the real-life adventures of Christopher Isherwood) evidently climbs both sides of the ladder. Rawle’s rich singing voice is always a treat and he brings an easy, up-for-it-ness to the role.
Bradshaw finds himself in the KitKat Club, a venue named after not one but two chocolate bars (not really) where he meets the redoubtable Sally Bowles. Siobhan Dillon imbues the divine Miss B with an irrepressible Englishness and energy. Her musical numbers are the highlights for me.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Lyn Paul but I’m afraid her German landlady, Fraulein Schneider, has more than a hint of Liverpool to her. I keep expecting her to turn out to be Frau Johnson in a production of Blut Brüder.
Her paramour Herr Schulz is sweetly portrayed by Linal Haft, warbling about a pineapple and keeping his kopf in the sand about the rising tide of anti-Semitism all around him as Nazism infects the minds of the German populace. Director Rufus Norris knows we know what happens historically and within the story. He makes the rise of the Reich ironic – the Emcee is a satirist. In Tomorrow Belongs to Me for example, rather than trying to catch us out with an invitation to sing along, here the Emcee is shown as a puppetmaster, pulling the strings of his chorines in traditional German costume. The Nazis tug at the patriotism of the people, making it easier to pick out ‘others’ as scapegoats for the country’s problems. (Cut to the news today where our own PM is employing exactly the same tactic, playing to people’s fears about immigration rather than giving us any facts).
Cabaret not only reminds us that terrible things happened, it is also a stark warning against the resurgence of the right wing. The show ends with the chorus, who haven’t been wearing very much more than leather shorts and straps anyway, naked and vulnerable, clawing against a wall. The satirists and ‘deviants’ of the KitKat Club have been rounded up and taken to the showers… It’s the most downbeat and chilling ending in musical theatre.
I always forget how funny Joe Masteroff’s script is, and Kander & Ebb’s score, owing a lot to Brecht & Weill, is always great to hear. Rufus Norris gives the show a sharper, more aggressive tone, reinvigorating the piece and redoubling its power to shock.
So put down your knitting, your book and your ipod and catch the production on tour; with or without Mr Will Young, you’re in for a thoroughly engaging and entertaining evening.
PS. Get well soon, Will.