Review: Cabaret at Laban Theatre

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome… to Cabaret, presented by final year Musical Theatre students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Written in 1966 by Kander and Ebb, the musical is set in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis, and explores how easily good people can be taken in by clever propaganda, or choose to look the other way and ignore what’s going on around them. In light of all that’s going on in the world in 2018, this subject matter makes it, depressingly, a particularly timely choice for the students’ two-date showcase.

Photo credit: Trinity Laban Musical Theatre

American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Harry Newton / Michael McGeough) arrives in Berlin hoping to find inspiration for his novel. What he finds is the Kit Kat Klub, a nightclub overseen by the sinister Emcee (Barney Fritz / Jake Lomas), where Cliff falls for carefree English cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Jenny Coates / Amy Blanchard). Meanwhile, his landlady Fräulein Schneider (Hannah Macpherson / Hannah Qureshi) is enjoying a romance with another resident, Herr Schultz (Calum Rickman), but when her friends and neighbours realise he’s Jewish, she must decide if marrying him is worth all the trouble it would undoubtedly bring to her door.

For the majority of the 90-minute Act 1 Cabaret is very much a feel-good show, peppered with infectiously toe-tapping tunes and charting two charmingly unconventional new romances. It’s only as the first act comes to a close that we see through the Emcee’s carefully constructed facade and begin to understand what’s really happening, before a much shorter Act 2 hammers the message home with brutal efficiency. And immediately following Sally’s defiant performance of the show’s big title number, the deliberately off-key finale is unsettling – if not particularly shocking – as it forces the audience to re-evaluate all that we’ve just watched from a dark new perspective.

On a brighter note the production, directed by Karen Rabinowitz, was excellent, with confident performances from a talented young cast and stage band. It’s worth noting that most of the central characters were played by two actors over the two days; at the performance I attended, Barney Fritz absolutely owned the stage as the Emcee – intensely creepy but weirdly seductive, he quickly won the audience over with the opening number, and never looked back. Jenny Coates and Harry Newton were strong leads as Sally and Cliff (the former bringing the house down with her performance of Cabaret), but for me the more compelling of the two romances was that between Hannah Macpherson and Calum Rickman as Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Despite playing two people much older than themselves, both were totally convincing in their roles, and utterly charming whenever they were on stage together.

Photo credit: Trinity Laban Musical Theatre

With slick choreography from Graham Newell and a simple but attractive set designed by Louis Carver, if you didn’t know then you’d be hard pressed to guess that you were watching a student performance. With the exception of rare – and always quickly corrected – moments of over-exuberance from the band that briefly drowned out the dialogue, there was little to set this apart from a professional performance; it’s certainly a show I’d happily recommend to anyone looking for a great night out. And it also offered a valuable opportunity to see a cast of exciting new talent, who I’ve no doubt will go on to own plenty of much larger stages in the future.

Cabaret was performed at Laban Theatre on 6th and 7th December. For details of future productions, visit trinitylaban.ac.uk/whats-on.

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