Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cabaret

It may have just been happenstance, but it was an apt coincidence that on the day Hull was named City of Culture for 2017, I attended a performance of Cabaret at the city’s New Theatre. Cabaret has long been one of my favourite films – and I speak as someone who generally detests musicals – so I was intrigued by this production. I was going to go when it was in London, starring Will Young and Michelle Ryan but, typically, waited too long to try to get tickets. So when I heard it was coming to Hull, still starring Will Young but with Siobhan Dillon in the role of Sally Bowles, I had to make sure I went. I’ve been looking forward to it for ages and, happily, it didn’t disappoint.

What I hadn’t realised was that the stage musical and the film version are significantly different. In the film, Brian is English and Sally American; in the play, the nationalities are reversed (and Brian is called Cliff). The play features a strong narrative strand involving Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz which doesn’t appear in the film, and nor do a number of their songs. Bob Fosse changed the focus of the film to concentrate on Sally Bowles as the central character and this was undoubtedly an inspired decision. The songs between Fraulein Schneider and Schultz are fine enough, but far less interesting than the Kit Kat Klub-based songs that comprise the film soundtrack.

I was curious – and dubious – about how they would manage to convey the terrifying sentiment of Tomorrow Belongs to Me. In the film version, this is one of the most chilling moments ever on celluloid, as the camera pans away to reveal the Nazi insignia on the angelic-looking boy’s sleeve.

How could they replicate that? The answer is: superbly. I won’t give it away in case people want to go and see it but it was brilliantly done and left me with a shiver down my spine as it brought the first act to a conclusion. The reprise, early in the second act, was equally impressive.

And, indeed, that is an important point about the production for me. In the first act, I thought it was a marvellous spectacle and I thought that Will Young, as the emcee, was excellent. Nonetheless, I did feel that he was concentrating on the comic aspects of the role to the detriment of the darker aspects of the emcee’s character that Joel Grey developed so brilliantly. However, as the second act unfolds the mood grows progressively grimmer, tracking the Nazis' inexorable rise to power, and Young responds accordingly. The emcee changes. The fun dissipates. Danger engulfs us. And if the end of act one was impressive, the end of act two is terrifying, as the Nazis win and the “degenerates” of the Kit Kat Klub, and anyone else deemed unGerman, are disposed of.

This is the glory of Cabaret for me, both the film and the play. Yes, we see the darkness of humanity, the depths to which it can descend. But that darkness is transient. Hitler’s thousand year Reich lasted barely twelve years. Humanity was restored. Love, humour, lust, companionship will survive, will revive, will reassert themselves. For all the apparent lowness of the lives of the dancers and regulars of the Kit Kat Klub, they represent humanity, glorious, unpredictable, bawdy humanity. And they will win. Always.

This production of Cabaret was terrific. The finest compliment I can give is that I wish I was there again tonight when they start tonight’s performance in about five minutes.

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