I arrived for the opening night of Cabaret at the Edinburgh Playhouse feeling utterly unequipped for the night’s proceedings having never seen the original film and knowing nothing about it. The only bit I remembered was that it featured Liza Minnelli using a chair incorrectly. The latest version sees Louise Redknapp pick up the Liza role and due to her and Will Young’s involvement my expectations were sky high. For my age range Louise Redknapp is an iconic figure held in higher regard than Geri from the Spice Girls. Who can forget the three page spread pull-out posters of Louise in Loaded back in the 90s? Not me, obviously.
Cabaret opens with Will Young popping his head out of a giant sphincter. Okay, it’s supposed to be a lens shutter but first impressions matter and that’s what this reviewer thought of. It was glorious. Again, as a huge fan of Will I was startled to find him doing a silly German accent that, combined with a relatively low volume, made him virtually impossible to hear. This issue did not affect any of the other performers who all spoke clearly even through various accents. That said, Young’s performance felt deliberate and measured – reminding me of Del Toro’s Mumbles in The Usual Suspects. He clowned and got the biggest laughs throughout. I just couldn’t understand a blooming word he said.
Cabaret tells the story of a young American who travels to Berlin and ends up living with a captivating young singer, Sally (Louise Redknapp) against the backdrop of World War Two and the rise of the Nazi party.
The biggest disappointment of Cabaret has got to be the songs. Until the song Tomorrow Belongs To Me pops up just before the interval I was struggling to remember a single melody from the entire first half of the performance. On the way to the bar my friend asked me what I thought so far and I said “It would be nice to hear some songs in this musical”.
The staging is at times marvellous and at others as bland as a wet cardboard box. The scenes set in the club are all flashing lights, revolving metal staircases and cages which are fantastic, but these are juxtaposed against a dismal hotel set that far too often houses solo songs lit by a single spotlight that expose their weak arrangement. The drive of the songs is impaired by the decision to hide the live band at the very back of the stage and mutes their impact. Redknapp absolutely kills it on the two solo songs she performs.
Aside from the two celebrities, the play is held up by a great central performance from Charles Hagerty as Clifford Bradshaw, the American who is captivated by Berlin’s seedy nightlife, while Susan Penhaligon and Linal Haft both craft believable characters whose ill fated romance crackles with just the right amount of chemistry.
I left Cabaret feeling like it had given me an itch I couldn’t scratch. From what I understood of the story it’s about those who pretend that politics don’t affect them, preferring to shield themselves with entertainment and the finer things, only to all end up crushed under the Nazi regime. A harsh lesson indeed, yet I found it inconceivable that with what is happening in the world today with literal Nazis literally killing people that this version of Cabaret shrugged off all modern day references or reflection. Where was the big reveal at the end that said “hey audience – these people are you?”
Photos courtesy of Pamela Raith.
Cabaret runs at Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 18th November.