Cabaret starring Will Young and Louise Redknapp is at The Playhouse Theatre Edinburgh this week (until Saturday 18th November) turning time back and re-creating the Kit Kat Club of 1931 Berlin on stage.
Cabaret is one of these productions that has a long history in different media – I Am a Camera (play), Goodbye to Berlin (short novel), stage musical and of course the iconic film from 1972 that brought the talents of writers Kander and Ebb, director Bob Fosse and of course Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles. It is perhaps a little unfair that to anyone who has seen the film, Liza Minnelli is the benchmark that many will judge any Sally Bowles against. Adding to this problem of course is the fact that this role has over the years been played by some of the great stage performance artists of their time, and to expect Louise Redknapp to compete against this background in her first dramatic role is perhaps expecting a little too much from anyone – particularly in a production where Will Young has had the time to firmly establish his role as Emcee to perfection.
Louise Redknapp is a very good vocalist, but this is Sally Bowles on stage, one of the most iconic roles in musical theatre and there is so much more to this part than just hitting the right notes, there is real dramatic weight to this part and to her songs. Sally Bowles to me always is a bit of a fake as underneath her exterior of “exquisite decadence” there is a very vulnerable woman wanting love and security more than anything else. Sally does not just perform at the Kit Kat Club, she is trapped there by many demons and knows it all too well. There should be a sharp contrast between on stage Sally and the off stage Sally as her relationship with Clifford develops, and that was not there for me in this production. That vulnerability I want to hear in “Maybe This Time” is just not there either. Everything about Sally is in the song “Cabaret” – whatever your troubles in life, put a brave smile on your face and just get on with things, and Louise does a far stronger performance with this number.
For some reason the relationship between American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Charles Hagerty) and Sally Bowles (Louse Redknapp) is just not producing any emotion here for me, and that may be down to some factors outside of their control. The triangle between Clifford, Sally and nightclub performer Bobby also seems very weak here. Instead, the real relationship in this story and the one I remember the strongest when I left the theatre is the one between Fraulein Schneider (Susan Penhaligon) and Herr Schultz (Linal Haft). There are some wonderfully touching and delicate moments in this relationship, and both Susan and Linal have the background of dramatic experience to bring these characters to life. Fraulein Schneider also has some wonderful songs and, unlike Sally Bowles, her way of coping with the “Cabaret” that is life is simply to become very still, become almost invisible and simply survive whatever larger events are happening around her.
This re-imagining of Cabaret works still though on many levels, and part of that is the bold move to create something very different on the Kit Kat Club stage, a wise move too as so many people have the Bob Fosse visuals in their heads still and any attempt to slightly change these would probably have ended badly. Instead, this new vision (which I last saw in 2013) has allowed Will Young to firmly establish himself as the new Emcee here, and he is simply getting better and better at this role. I was not too sure how this production would work on one of the largest stages in the UK as it is best suited for a smaller and more intimate theatre, but it works very well, and a big part of that success is the ability of Will Young to pull an audience right into the stage with him. There is also something unnerving at times to his performance – his closing performance of “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” in Act 1 has chilling overtones to it.
This production of Cabaret is a bit like a story in two very distinct parts, and the music, dance and laughter of Act 1 contrast sharply with the far more dramatic and darker events of Act 2 as the Nazi party start to consolidate their hold on the German political scene. Out of the two, the second half of this show for me is always where the power of this story lies, and nothing in this production is more powerful than the final scene. If you have not seen this production yet I have no intention of giving that final scene away and hope no reviewers do either.
This is not a perfect production of Cabaret, but it is a very good one. Louise Redknapp has the unenviable job of having to learn very swiftly the skill sets required for a dramatic role of this weight on stage and in front of audiences, and with the depth of dramatic talent around her, I have no doubt that this will be a very swift learning curve.
Review by Tom King