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Theatre review: ‘Cabaret’

Mark Walker
April 23rd, 2015

This article is more than 9 years old.

Brilliant bravado from the Berlin bombshells

Life is a cabaret old chum (photo: Per Morten Abrahamsen)

It’s unlikely there are many who are unaware of ‘Cabaret’, let alone who haven’t seen the production in one of the various revivals on Broadway, the West End or elsewhere.

However, for the space aliens among us, this celebrated stage musical is based on Christopher Isherwood’s ‘The Berlin Stories’, the subsequent play ‘I Am Camera’ and today, to a considerable extent, Bob Fosse’s excellent film adaptation that cleaned up at the 1972 Oscars (setting a record for the most awards for a movie that didn’t win Best Film).

Berlin: bombshells before the bombs
Arriving amid the hedonistic, bohemian hub-bub of mid-30s Berlin, a somewhat repressed bisexual American, Cliff Bradshaw, finds himself sharing lodgings with loveable British firecracker Sally Bowles (the nationalities are switched in the movie to accommodate Michael York and Liza Minnelli).

Bradshaw is a novelist and Bowles is a singer, employed for more than just her voice by the fabulously seedy, smokey Kit Kat club. As their elderly landlady Fräulein Schneider finds love with Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit seller, the rise of Nazism begins to impress upon all their lives.

Inspired staging
The Royal Theatre has come under fire from critics who hold that staging popular musicals such as this should be outside the theatre’s remit. Critics be damned then, because this Danish-language revival (dialogue only, songs remain in English) staged by Lars Kaalund is a real triumph that, despite the lordly grandeur of the venue, still manages to capture the defiant, nonconformist, off-beat spirit of the musical – whilst leaving an indelible stamp all of its own.

This is mostly achieved by the way in which the theatre’s immense stage was inventively scaled back to allow a sparse use of only light and sound to describe Bradshaw’s lodgings and elsewhere – barely any physical props and sets are used, with the sole exception of the Kit Kat – thus making the fiery extravagance of the musical numbers inside the club all the more impressive – the contrast rendering the world outside colder, bleaker, less intimate. Of course, even the club cannot escape the all-encompassing stranglehold of the Nazi uprising, and latterly that same sparseness creeps into the refuge of the club too.

The most enduring image of the production was that which closed the first act – an angel-faced young girl, perhaps 11 or 12 years of age, whose pure a cappella voice issued forth from impossibly innocent Aryan features, clad as she was in traditional German dress. That the number she was singing became ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’, signalling the rapid popularisation of Nazism, made for a bone-chilling and remarkably moving experience.

Fräulien steals the show
Thue Rassmussen (alternating with Cyron Bjorn Melville) as Cliff Bradshaw did not dazzle but proved himself perfectly adequate for the role. Cecilie Stenspil’s Sally Bowles (she and Mille Hoffmeyer Lehfeldt alternate) channels Minnelli’s screen portrayal, albeit not too heavily, and she quickly disperses any initial reservations. It is crucial that we fall in love with Sally, and Stenspil achieved this – her final rendition of ‘Cabaret’ was a full-blooded resignation to the wretched hopelessness of her predicament.

A magnetic Peter Christoffersen, as the Emcee, tears through early numbers such as ‘Willkomen’ and ‘Two Ladies’ with devilish aplomb. Ultimately though, it was Hanne Uldal’s portrayal of landlady Fräulien Schneider and her cautious courtship of Herr Schultz that informed the sad soul of this production, from the absurdly touching spectacle of his pineapple gift to her, to Uldal’s lament of ‘What Would You Do’ – after a comparatively jaunty first act, the culmination of their doomed affair in the second brings home the crushing seriousness of the subject matter.

Det Kongelige Teater, Gamle Scene, Cph K; Playing until May 29; tickets: 50kr -1,180kr


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