LONDON – Since its stellar sweep at the 2022 Olivier Awards, Cabaret has been dazzling audiences in the Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End.
Its current cast includes BAFTA winning Aimee Lou Wood (Sex Education, Living) as Sally Bowles, Olivier-nominated John McCrea (Everybody’s Talking about Jamie, Cruella) as Emcee and Nathan Ives-Moiba as Cliff.
Cabaret takes place in 1920s Berlin. It’s about an American novelist named Cliff Bradshaw who meets and falls in love with performer Sally Bowles, who works at the local cabaret (the Kit Kat Club.) Amid the whirlwind romance, their happy-go-lucky lives are darkened by the increasing influence of the Nazi Party over Germany.
From start to finish, the Playhouse Theatre does a great job of keeping viewers engaged in the story. Literally. As you enter the theatre, performers from the chorus dance and “warm up” for the show, as if you are witnessing what goes on behind the scenes at the Kit Kat Club.
You can even pay for a special dining experience where you order a meal to eat at a booth during the performance.
One of the features I found impressive about the theater was that the stage was in the middle, with the seats all around it. When I got there, I’d wondered how the actors would perform facing all members of the viewers without having their backs to the audience for too long. But the choreography and blocking very cleverly kept you from seeing the back of an actor for more than a minute.
While largely sticking loyally to the original source material, this West End revival has taken its own spin on the aesthetics of the show, particularly the costuming.
For example, the color palette of any scene taking place outside of the Kit Kat Club involves a lot of dull beige. This became very effective in scenes like Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz’s engagement party, where Cliff’s “friend” Ernst Ludwig (Danny Mahoney) removes his coat to reveal his bright red swastika armband. You could hear a pin drop in the audience for the silence that followed.
One of the best things about Cabaret is that the first half lures you into a false sense of security.
The cast, through their catchy songs and engaging story line, barely pause for a breath, leaving you no time to remember the political history of 1929 in Germany. So as the interval falls after the Swastika reveal, it leaves the audience with apprehension as they begin the second act.
Once the musical is over, you realise the threat of Nazis was always there, from the start. But you became so engrossed in the lives of Sally, Cliff, and all at the Kit Kat Club that it reminds you how easy it is to fall under the influence of people who promise great things, but whom also have sinister intentions.
The cast was, of course, one of the many highlights of the show.
John McCrea’s eccentric take and comedic timing made me excited every time the Emcee entered the stage, whether he was bounding on through the audience or rising from the stage floor.
While we already knew of Aimee Lou Wood’s comedic talent from her BAFTA winning performance in television’s “Sex Education,” she graced us with her powerhouse vocals. She revealed a variety of styles in singing, including an exciting, over the top “Mein Herr,” the powerful and emotional “Maybe This Time” and her unhinged, powerful performance of the title song, “Cabaret.”
Vivien Parry brought us comedy with her exasperation at her tenant Fraulein Kost (Michelle Bishop) but also heartbreak at the difficult decision she had to make towards the end of the musical. Similarly, Richard Katz as her love interest Herr Schultz brought a wholesome feel to the story, his personality as sweet as the fruit he sells.
This production, including original ideas while sticking to the memorable source material, was excellent. The cast and orchestra delivered outstanding performances. I definitely recommend this show.
Gemma Christie is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.