Barbican Theatre, London – until 29 July 2018
Barry Humphries appears in this tribute to Weimar era composers in his most daring character yet; himself! Humphries oozes charm but lacks the glamour of his close friend Dame Edna Everage so he’s brought along fellow Melbournian Meow Meow for the ride along with Aurora Chamber Orchestra. This production was originally on at the Cadogan Hall in 2016 with the Australia Chamber Orchestra in the more intimate venue which I was fortunate enough to see. This new production, from Fiery Angel Entertainment, loses none of the intimacy and pathos of the original despite the Barbican’s immense size.
Humphries’ show is ultimately about the music and the time it was written; Mischa Spoliansky’s Alles Schwindel (with words by Marcellus Schiffer) about how everyone is swindling everyone as Hitler takes power, and his other piece, Wenn die beste Freundin, is about a couple of girlfriends giving up on men and moving to women instead; ‘The Ruins of Berlin’ contains the four languages of the occupying forces.
The show is also about Humphries and how as a teenager he found this collection of music in a bookshop in Melbourne and decided to research the composers, as he couldn’t read the music. It is a moving tale of those that perished under Nazi Germany, those that were given the opportunity to thrive elsewhere such as America or Melbourne, which had the highest number of European Jews outside of Israel and Humphries’ efforts to ensure their work live on, such as his accidental befriending of Spoliansky who happened to live above his dentist in London.
The real star of the show is Meow Meow, who gives it her all in at least four languages in killer heels. Her outfits are stunning and she brings this cabaret charm to Humphries’ elder statesman. Her tribute to S&M in ‘Ach, er hasst, dass ich ihn Liebe’ is playful and I loved every track in spite of my lack of German. Humphries and Meow Meow are assisted by the Aurora Chamber Orchestra who not only provide backing to the leads but in the form of Satu Vanska sing duets with Meow Meow and also sings a beautiful solo. There is also a piece that is described by Humphries as the first rap; a choral speaking piece by Toch called ‘Geographical Fugue’ performed by the orchestra.
It is a great night out for music lovers, German speakers and Meow Meow/Humphries fans. In Meow, Meow Humphries has a great double act partner and she seems protective of him as well as having a great time. The saddest thing about this production is not the stories of these men who left their homes because of a tyrannical dictator (as Humphries points out with a wink that there are no psychopathic leaders anymore) but Humphries relying on autocue in his 85th year. He’s lost none of the charm and timing that has seen him at the forefront of comedy for the last 50+ years but it is upsetting to see a man who could improvise with the best of them relying on a script.
Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret is on until 29 July https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2018/event/barry-humphries-weimar-cabaret