Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre, London
Is it too early to herald the theatrical event of the year? I suspect not, as I doubt I will see another show in 2022 that matches the allure and sense of occasion as Rebecca Frecknall’s much-anticipated production of Cabaret.
Entering the venue through the bowels of the Playhouse Theatre, its transformation into the Kit Kat Club transports the audience to Weimar Berlin; dingy lighting spotlights dark corners, the beer and schnapps is free-flowing and musicians and performers mingle with the crowd. Moving up through the building the design becomes more gaudily opulent, the walls and ceiling drip with velvet and gold and the lamp-lit tables populate the auditorium.
A lot of thought has been put into Tom Scutt’s immersive and intimate design, and the evocation of the decadence of the era creates a wonderful complicity between the audience and events portrayed onstage.
Frecknall utilises deceptively simple staging to pack a punch, including some beautiful use of the revolve stage; most notably in the initial rendition of ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’, which is eerily mirrored in the final downbeat tableau. This simplicity ensures that the immersive club setting never falters, while allowing the performers, music and choreography to tell the story with hazy continuity. Frecknall also pulls off a striking coup de theatre involving anti-Semitic vandalism that hammers home the danger and violence creeping into everyday life in Germany.
The ensemble numbers at the club strike the right balance between vaudevillian kitsch and Brechtian social commentary. I particularly enjoyed ‘Money’ here, with the ensemble clad in shackle-esque fringing conducted around the stage by a skeletally-bejewelled Emcee. The number is wonderfully creepy. Eddie Redmayne demonstrates a fine skill for musical theatre in an incredibly commited performance. Redmayne’s is a highly physical and at times ethereally abstract interpretation of the Emcee; from hunched sycophant, to spritely imp, to rousing balladeer and, eventually, becoming an unnervingly anonymous figure of Third Reich uniformity.
Jessie Buckley also attacks her part with fearlessness. While I can understand why her Sally may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I adored her erratic bolshiness and rough charm. Buckley really conveys the infuriating incongruity of Sally’s character; at once frank, credulous, brash, wily and world-weary, she is a force of nature and utterly compelling to watch. Buckley’s rendition of ‘Maybe This Time’ is quietly emotive and Sally’s façade betrays the tender wounds beneath. Similarly, the delivery of ‘Cabaret’ here is unlike any before. The essence of the show, and in particular the character, is calcified into an electrifying 3 minutes of chaos. Showstoppers such as this contrast with the sweet domesticity of the Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz heartfelt subplot. Liza Sadovy and Elliot Levy are gently humorous and endearing, which made me care about their relationship a great deal. Similarly affecting is Omari Douglas’s Cliff. His horror at the events unfolding around him is completely believable and he is engaging and credible as the ‘sane man in an insane world’.
Having been a long-time fan of Fosse’s film adaptation (and being rather underwhelmed by the touring version of Rufus Norris’s production a few years back), this version of Cabaret has brought to light new aspects of the musical to appreciate. Frecknall’s vision is relentless: we revel in decadence while being cowed by the undercurrent of menace. The performances are pitch-perfect and I anticipate this production will shape portrayals of these characters for some time to come. In all, one of the greatest piece of praise I can offer is that I think I could see this production again and again and always find something new to enjoy or think about. What a start to 2022!
Cabaret is currently booking until 1st October 2022 at the Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre.Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley in Cabaret
Credit: Marc Brenner
‘Is it too early to herald the theatrical event of the year?’: @nobillington could see #Cabaret at @kitkatclubldn again & again & ‘always find something new to enjoy or think about’. #theatrereviews #musicals #WestEnd