Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome! - Cabaret review! (2009)

Queen’s College Music and Drama Society presented Cabaret as their second semester show for 2009. A talented production team and crew were behind its successful run and it was delivered by a dedicated cast with well rehearsed self-assurance. There is an imposing pair of heels to wear when taking on Cabaret and this production managed to dance in them very well!

Cabaret is a film and musical that occupies a niche in 20th Century History as a bridge between politics and art. It shows us the world and then mirrors back a distorting reflection on the stage. We are witness the rising of the National Social Party and its leader Hitler both inside and outside the Kit Kat Klub. It is ironic that the true social commentary and satire comes from within the seedy, underground world rather than the surface where people are either too scared or have been swept into Nationalist fervour. Indeed the Kit Kat Klub has developed a mythology of its own; it feels separate and safe from the outside world. But this Klub realised onstage in this production with an impressive art-deco set is as just susceptible to history.

As a musical Cabaret was surprisingly (for someone familiar only with the film) very much an ensemble production. Indeed the whirlwind romance between Sally and Clifford was almost incidental as we laughed at Fraulein Kost and her sailers; reflected on Ernst Ludwig’s political allegiances and followed the Emcee as he led us through the show. It was somewhat a surprise then to find the characters that the audience really connected with were the older couple, coming late to love. In a lovely contrast to the highly energetic pace of the life at the Klub these two, romanced slowly with pineapples. Liz Crompton and Marty Macleish as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz were adorable to watch on stage and they carried their ‘aging bodies’ with a light caricature that connected well with the audience.

The costuming was a highlight of this production. There were the obligatory sparkles, satin, fishnets and lacy frills adorning the Kit Kat Girls as they preened and pranced. Great attention also went into the male chorus, ensuring they presented well as the dapper, fashionable clientele of the Kit Kat Club. However, I would like to question both the necessity and the reasoning behind the Front of House staff wearing swastikas during interval. When dealing with the sensitive issues around the Holocaust and the appropriateness of representing Nazis in contemporary society it is often wise to be subtle. On stage the reveal of Ernst Ludwig’s swastika was a powerful and foreboding moment. It was undermined by having similarly attired staff cheerfully pointing you to towards the bar.

It is the music of Cabaret that stays with you long after you leave the theatre. It is through song that the love, politics and impending doom of the early 1930s is best communicated. It was wonderful to have the orchestra pit open and watch the familiar notes come to life and the fill the auditorium. An onstage orchestra assists in redressing the lack intimacy that the Union House Theatre stage can sometimes bring to a production. Anna van Veldhuisen’s energetic conducting and camaraderie with her musicians was a delight to watch: although only the first few rows had the opportunity to witness this. More onstage interaction with the orchestra throughout the show could have amplified this experience for the rest of the audience.

Adam Russell’s interpretation of Cabaret was overall more sugar than spice but still managed to drive home all the appropriate political and emotional themes. It may have sweetened the blow but after all: “life is a Cabaret old chum, and I love a Cabaret!”

Last review for Union House Theatre, 2009.