This Olivier-winning production brings Cabaret back to town for the first time since 2008, with Will Young as Emcee and a whole dollop of street cred. Despite a strong performance from our Pop Idol however, this show was not a patch on the story that many will know and love from the silver screen. Disclosure: Cabaret is one of the rare live experiences that, to this reviewer, never could be and that’s nothing to do with not being able to appreciate the difference. That and The Sound of Music, perhaps. But this unsubtle, one-note production was by and large a disappointment.
It is directed by Rufus Norris, who was also at the helm of the highly enjoyable last revival, that in Liverpool featured Wayne Sleep and the rather brilliant then-17-year-old Samantha Barks, who it was a real thrill to see go on to star in the film version of Les Mis. Despite huge differences between the stage and screen versions – most notably a romantic subplot between landlady Frauline Schneider and her Jewish neighbour that is not in the film, they shared a certain style and sass. This time, the whole formula felt tampered with for no good enough reason.
Celebrated choreographer Javier de Frutos brought a menace and vulgarity to the ensemble’s routines that would have had me begging for the smouldering sensuality of Fosse; as they aggressively flailed around all over the place a crass kind of sexuality emanated from this production like a cheap aftershave (look, there’s tits! And look! He’s kissing a man!). It was all a bit Rocky Horror rather than Weimar Republic.
The iconic club singer Sally Bowles (Siobhan Dillon) was given a back seat in this production, well, not for much. There was no time given to explore her fascinating character, and save one rather charming scene where she wheedled her way into Clifford’s room she was given very little to do. Her relationship with American writer Cliff (Matt Rawle) was barely fleshed out, rendering much of the drama completely ineffective (in the first act, she falls pregnant but doesn’t know who by, and Cliff clearly prefers boys; by the second they are planning their lives as parents together). By the second act I realised not only had I not bought into any of the relationships on stage at all, but I didn’t care for anyone up there. I didn’t care about Sally Bowles. That is just unforgivable. And Cliff? The best thing that happened to him was a particularly inventive kick in the face from some very acrobatic Nazis.
As the plot at once both whizzed and plodded along, I felt quite lost. The strands of the narrative became hard to follow and the lyrics of many of the songs were not easy to hear, the speedy wordplay of the glorious Money Money all at sea. Lyn Paul’s So What was very enjoyable, and Will Young’s voice was perfect for the closing ballad I Don’t Care Much (by this point, not just a clever name).
The show finished with a similar chilling scene to 2008, as the naked dancers from the Kit Kat club huddled together in the gas chambers. Young dropped his robe and with a flash of his superstar behind, joined them; arguably one last unsubtle distraction.