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.

Review: The Full Brontë at The Space

The life and works of the Brontës have been the traffic of many a stage over the years – but I suspect never quite like this. Scary Little Girls’ two-hander “literary cabaret” The Full Brontë is a joyously chaotic homage to the famous writing family, which features song, dance, storytelling, Kate Bush, Black Lace, a “ukelady”, quite a bit of audience participation and several packets of crisps.

The show is hosted by “actor-manager” Maria (Rebecca Mordan) and her amiable, much put-upon assistant Brannie (Sharon Andrew), who does everything else – music, props, wardrobe, stage management… you get the idea. It quickly transpires that what was supposed to be a celebration of the Brontës is in reality intended as a celebration of Maria’s great artistic talent – or at least it would be if Brannie didn’t keep stealing all the best lines and showing her boss up with a more in-depth knowledge of the Brontë family history. Somewhat predictably, though Maria casts herself as the star, Brannie quietly – and quickly – wins us over, so it’s no surprise that in any moment of conflict between the two, the audience always sides with her.

It’s also no particular surprise that despite the title, there’s not actually much about the Brontës in the show. References to their novels and poetry are sketchy at best, often straying on to other topics including (of course) a couple of awkwardly shoehorned jokes about Brexit and Trump. Even the extended scenes based on the Brontës’ two best-known novels – Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights – reveal far more about the tense partnership between Maria and Brannie than they do about the literary works that inspired them.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however (although anyone going along to actually try and learn something about the Brontës might disagree), and the comedic talents of Rebecca Mordan and Sharon Andrew more than compensate for the show’s lack of literary substance. Both audience and actors are kept on our toes by the threat/promise that most of us will be “used” at some point during the evening, and it’s often these improvised exchanges with audience members – when neither party quite knows what might happen next – that get the biggest laughs.

The Full Brontë is without doubt a very silly, chaotic 80 minutes, during which you’ll learn next to nothing about the Brontës (except that they may or may not have been Cornish…?) and may well come out a bit more confused and considerably more flustered than when you went in. But even so, it’s hard not to be charmed by this thoroughly entertaining comedy duo, and for an evening of good-natured fun, the show is well worth a visit.

The Full Brontë is at The Space until 3rd November.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Interview: Henry Moss, Quadruple Threat

Following a sell-out run at the Sydney Fringe Festival, Australian musical theatre performer Henry Moss returns to Islington’s Hen and Chickens next weekend with his one-man show Quadruple Threat. Londoners have two opportunities left to see the show described in a rave five-star review from LondonTheatre1 as a “delightful and delectable exploration of the cut-throat and ever-unforgiving entertainment industry”.

In the show, Henry – who also writes and directs – plays Sir Harry Ledgerman, a musical theatre star and national treasure, who after a public mental breakdown is desperate to revamp his career. 

Photo credit: Seann Miley Moore

Quadruple Threat may be the campest 45 minutes of your life,” says Henry, whose influences include Graham Norton and Australian comedian Chris Lilley, of the TV series Summer Heights High. “I don’t stop to take a breath. I play egomaniac Harry Ledgerman – the struggling artist we all know, who aims to promote his tell-all celebrity memoir Quadruple Threat by hosting a series of motivational workshops – as well as his obnoxious guest speakers, LA bombshell Brandi Straussberg and quintessential Aussie bloke Bruce McDingy, who each claim they have the secret to success. I also morph into Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman, Graham Norton and Dame Judi Dench.”

The show features dozens of musical theatre hits, all performed by Henry, accompanied by renowned cabaret pianist Sarah Bodalbhai. “I saw Sarah play at a hip hop gig last October,” says Henry. “I contacted her straight away and we met to discuss the show. Sarah is an incredible and versatile pianist who effortlessly improvises and segues from song to song. I am so lucky to have her accompany me. We get on like a house on fire, and the audience loves the battered and long-lasting relationship between Harry and Sarah.”

So is Quadruple Threat just a show for musical theatre fans? “Of course not,” says Henry. “It’s for any one who loves satire, has had their own series of knock backs and is intrigued by the madness that is showbiz.

“Musical theatre fans will recognise hits packed into the cabaret, but there are many pop hits from Stevie Wonder, Britney Spears, Ray Charles and Edith Piaf to name a few – that the audience recognise, roll their eyes and get the irony as I burst into these show stoppers.

“My favourite is probably my 1996 Judi Dench rendition of Send In the Clowns – it comes to Harry in the show as he feels he has ‘mis-timed his life’. There’s a hilarious tension between the tragedy of the music contrasted to Harry being so ridiculous and neurotic.”

As for Henry’s top tip for making it in showbiz? “I’ll let you know when I get there… In the mean time – a great fake tan and a whole lot of hairspray.”

Catch Quadruple Threat at the Hen and Chickens on 5th and 6th August at 3pm.