An email from trade publication Lingerie Insight popped up in my inbox on Monday, and the headline ‘Lingerie designer makes Cabaret comeback to dress Louise Redknapp and Will Young‘ caught my eye. The article reported that the designer and founder of Raine & Bea, Jenna Barnes, made costumes for Cabaret in 2013 and was invited back to create playsuits, corsets, camisoles and knickers for the 2017 cast of the musical. When the order was completed, she posted some images of work on the costumes on the Raine & Bea Twitter account, including a video of a sequinned playsuit. As I enjoyed the movie but haven’t seen the stage show yet – plus this touring production stars Louise Redknapp as Sally Bowles and Will Young as the Emcee – I decided to investigate further and ended up booking myself one of the remaining stalls seats for the Tuesday performance.
When I collected my ticket at the New Wimbledon Theatre the following evening, I bought a programme so that I could read up on the show while I waited for it to start, as I realised that all I could remember clearly about Cabaret was the main songs from the movie version! I read articles about the writers, Kander & Ebb, about Berlin in the 1920s, and the Weimar Republic, which gave a nice amount of background to the show. However, my excitement about the song and dance numbers meant that the sentence ‘Hitler soon began closing down Berlin’s cabarets and clamping down on every aspect of the city’s decadent lifestyle’, and the note under the list of scenes which states ‘the action takes place in Berlin, Germany, 1930-1931’, didn’t properly sink in. Basically, I didn’t remember just how many Nazis are in Cabaret!
The first half begins with the expressive face of Will Young’s Emcee appearing in the O of the giant WILKOMMEN that has been welcoming us from the stage since we took our seats (see image at the top of this post). After we see American writer Clifford Bradshaw (played by Charles Hagerty) arrive at Berlin border control and make a new friend, we’re thrust back into the Kit Kat Club on New Year’s Eve where the Emcee give us a taster of what’s to come in the classic opening number. Will Young was giving such a mesmerising performance during this song that I almost didn’t look at the rest of the cast! The striking choreography was perfect and the simple but effective staging moved effortlessly between the club and Fršulein Schneider’s house, where Cliff is renting a room. Louise Redknapp is extremely endearing as the self-absorbed Sally Bowles, delivering a fantastic performance both when singing songs like Mein Herr and while somehow convincing Clifford to let her share his room, despite the fact that he’s clearly hung up on one of the male dancers from the club.
When I arrived at the theatre and saw an audience that was mostly made up of people my parents’ age, I did wonder if I’d perhaps misremembered the bisexuality in Cabaret, or if they’d maybe toned down the hedonism for this stage performance. Were they all here for some family-friendly version of the show that I was unaware of? Thankfully not! After flashes of male nudity, female nudity, and two male characters sharing a passionate kiss centre stage, I was pleased to discover that this production doesn’t shy away from capturing the essence of Berlin’s cabaret scene in 1930. Two Ladies and the dream sequence were both delightfully decadent, but when the first half ended on a more sombre note we were given a hint of what was to come.
The second half reveals more about the identities and political leanings of some of the main characters and anyone with even a very basic knowledge of twentieth century history will have been filled with dread as to how the story was about to unfold. By the time we got to The Money Song, I didn’t know how they could possibly pitch a song and dance number at the right emotional level for everything else that was going on (I’d had an alcoholic drink at the interval, which I don’t think helped with All The Feels!), but it was brilliantly done. The love story between Fršulein Schneider and Herr Schultz was extremely touching, and the key scenes with Bobby from the Kit Kat Club were handled expertly.
Obviously, I don’t want to spoil it if you don’t know the story, but it’s a tale that’s well worth re-telling in the current political climate. When you think politics don’t affect you and so choose to bury your head in distractions, or simply repeatedly say that ‘everything will be just fine’ when people in power seek to divide us, take a look at stories like Cabaret and be reminded of the worst that can happen. We must not let it happen again. The cast and crew have done an amazing job of bringing this wonderful musical back to theatres across the UK – I’d definitely recommend grabbing a ticket.
Cabaret is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 30th September 2017, then Milton Keynes Theatre 31st October to 4th November, Edinburgh Playhouse 14th-18th November, and finishes its tour at Theatre Royal Brighton 5th-9th December 2017. Main image by lipsticklori. Cabaret press images of Will Young and Louise Redknapp by Jim Marks.