- Gareth K Vile
- 11 November 2019
Not quite enough of the darkness, or the light
Rufus Norris' direction of Cabaret relies heavily on the power of the script's development of the Nazi threat to the German Weimar Republic and its more familiar musical numbers: the finale is an abrupt adoption of a suggestive theatricality that has more in common with performance art than musical theatre, and ends the show with a brutal, bleak tableau. That the plot descends from the decadent optimism of the first act to an increasingly violent and paranoid state, and the scenes set inside Berlin's nightclub evoke the rise of Nazism allow Norris to develop a striking production despite a dramaturgy that appears to drag out conversations and banter into a self-conscious, measured and tragic tone.
The plot follows both the romance between Clifford Bradshaw and Sally Bowles (Charles Hagerty and Kara Lily Hayworth, who show very little chemistry), and a parallel relationship between their landlady and a Jewish grocer (which foregrounds the rise of anti-Semitism), while the decline of the Weimar Republic is explored through the scenes at the Kit-Kat club. John Partridge is disappointing as the MC – replacing the character's moral ambiguity with vagueness, and never presenting the necessary sinister edge as the Third Reich comes to dominate the decadent underworld. The first act feels pedestrian: concentrating on Bradshaw's acclimatisation in Berlin, it lacks the energy of the second act, when the threats are embodied, the Jewish community is attacked and the queers start to disappear.
Norris does introduce a striking coup de theatre at the end of act one, and emphasises the underlying tensions through the scenography and frequently empty stage. While Javier de Frutos struggles in his choreography to add new life to the now over-familiar signifiers of Weimar decadence, Bowles' ultimate loneliness and naivety is eloquently exposed in the final number – the more usually celebratory titular song. In places embracing the horror behind the glamour, this revival is uneven, unsure of how best to use its relevant themes and too cautious in its use of spectacle and glamour.
Reviewed at Edinburgh Festival Theatre. His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, Tue 12–Sat 16 Nov, and touring.