Cabaret – Review – Hull New Theatre
Cabaret – Review
Hull New Theatre, October 2019
by Rachel Howard
Sally Bowles belting out “Life is a cabaret old chum!” will forever be a part of musical-theatre history and is ingrained in the minds of many theatre fans. It’s certainly ingrained in mine – so much so that I could’ve sworn that somewhere in the dim and distant past I had seen a performance of Cabaret. But, as I sit mesmerised through the current UK tour production at Hull New Theatre, I realise that actually, this show is new to me. And as anyone who has seen it can testify, watching a performance of Cabaret is not something you forget in a hurry.
Based on John Van Druten’s play I Am a Camera (itself adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 short novel, Goodbye to Berlin), Cabaret the musical debuted on Broadway in 1966 and opened in the West End a couple of years later. It has remained a long-standing fixture in both locations for many years, and sparked a host of tours taking in many countries across the world. Not forgetting, of course, the 1972 Oscar-winning film, directed by Bob Fosse and starring the legendary Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles. It’s no wonder that Cabaret is considered a bonafide classic and one of the best examples of musical theatre you’re ever likely to see, and this UK tour, produced by Bill Kenwright, is no exception.
Based in 1931 Berlin, the show centres around the fabulously seedy Kit Kat Club during a time of great political change. The burgeoning love affair between English cabaret performer Sally Bowles and American writer Cliff Bradshaw is exciting, passionate and hot-headed – the exact opposite of the doomed relationship between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Their bond is one of companionship in their latter years, a gentle love and respect that ends all too soon at the hands of the Nazis and their emerging power.
Many big names have graced the stage in Cabaret over the years, and tonight’s cast is equally impressive. Narrating the story in the role of Emcee is John Partridge. Perhaps most famous as Christian Clarke in BBC1’s EastEnders, John is a stalwart of musical theatre and has appeared in everything from Chicago to Starlight Express and La Cage aux Folles. His experience and confidence shine through as he takes to the stage as the wonderfully wild, flamboyant and troubled Emcee. This is a multi-faceted character, and not one for the faint-hearted, but it could have been written for this talented actor who guides us through the joyous, enlightened first half of the show, and into the traumatic and often harrowing second half.
Taking on the iconic role of Sally Bowles is Kara Lily Hayworth. Last time she graced the stage of Hull New Theatre, it was as Cilla Black in Cilla The Musical. She was fantastic and I didn’t think it was possible for her to surpass it, but as Sally Bowles she has well and truly arrived. It’s very hard to imagine anyone other than the great Ms Minnelli as Bowles, but Kara Lily Hayworth was born for this role. The voice, the dancing, the characterisation… it’s all spot on.
Charles Hagerty returns as struggling writer Cliff Bradshaw, having already played the role in the 2017 UK tour. His stage presence, chemistry and vocals are superb, and despite his love for Sally, his portrayal of man struggling with his sexuality is handled brilliantly.
James Paterson brings a confident experience to the role of the Jewish fruit-seller Herr Schultz. I warm to the character almost immediately and find his innocent love for Fraulein Schneider a delight to watch unfold. This affection for the character only grows when, later in the production, we see the impact that the emergence of the Nazis has not only on his relationship but his life as a whole.
The role of Fraulein Schneider is taken on by Anita Harris. A well-loved star of stage, screen and recording studio, Harris portrays the spinster beautifully. Her years of loneliness have brought a certain torment to her heart, but to the delight of the audience, she accepts Herr Schultz’s proposal of marriage, and it looks like she may have her happy ending after all. But of course, this is 1930s Germany, and the implications of marrying a Jew become too much to bear.
The musical numbers in Cabaret are, quite rightly, well documented. ‘Cabaret’, ‘Mein Herr’ and ‘The Money Song’ are all performed with the power and star quality you would expect from such a distinguished cast. But it’s the lesser known songs including ‘Married’, performed by Anita Harris and James Paterson; and ‘If You Could See Her’ performed by Emcee, that really strike me. Even though this story is set in the 1930s, and was written well over 50 years go, songs like this show that Cabaret still holds a lot of relevance for audiences today. In fact, maybe more so than ever.
Special mention must be given to the set and costume designer for this touring show, Katrina Lindsay. From the opening scene where Emcee appears through the ‘O’ of Wilkommen, through to the lavish lighting of the Kit Kat Club, the cold isolation of Bradshaw’s rented room and the agonising finality of the closing scene – the set serves to enhance all angles of the show, and does so impeccably.
No review of Cabaret would be complete without mentioning the final ten minutes, and it’s these ten minutes that will stay with audiences forever. Never have I been in a theatre, almost full to capacity, and witnessed that level of silence and emotion. There are no encores in this show, just as there were no encores for the millions killed in the Nazi concentration camps so chillingly portrayed in this finale. A much-deserved standing ovation did follow, but a sombre mood had taken over, and the fun and frivolity of the first half seemed a world away.
But this is no criticism – very rarely does musical theatre take you on such an intense journey of emotion. But, the message behind the story is that life itself is a journey, and as Sally Bowles says: “Life is a cabaret old chum, it’s only a cabaret, old chum, and I love a cabaret!”