Cabaret – The Festival Theatre

Music & Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb

Book by Joe Masteroff

Directed by Rufus Norris

Madame’s & Monsieur’s you are cordially invited to Berlin’s it Kit Kat Klub, a den of iniquity, vice and never a virtue. Life has always been a Cabaret: it’s bombastic, emotional and contains just a few surprises, with fewer welcome ones. Joe Masteroff’s book, a play made in 1966 has been cast into the minds of many for the Liza Minnelli film of the seventies – when in reality its nuances, symbolism and staggering beauty lies on the stage.

The remnants of the First World War are still a struggle for the German people of the Weimar Republic in the late 1920s and early ’30s. Arriving into the mix is Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer who befriends choice individuals during his stay at Fraulein Schneider’s small apartment. Taking up an invitation to the Kit Kat Klub, a Kabaret club which epitomises the struggles of the German people and rise of the Nazi party, with select clues for those looking beyond the enticing men and woman, Bradshaw encounters Ernst Ludwig, a German man retrieving various goods from Paris during ‘business’ trips. Above it all, a young chipper Brit, Sally Bowles, captivates any who cross her path.

Approaching act two, illusionary parables fade as a metaphorical context becomes evident, gathering momentous emotion, particularly painful ones, as Partridge collapses from the Emcee, – Jester-King of Cabaret to a fallen idol, an example of the times ahead for the Kit Kat Klub, Germany and Europe. As subtle shades become prominent, the gasps of realisation are nothing of the eventual shuddering imagery of the climax. With the Third Reich rising, Emcee and Sally’s worlds begin to fold in on themselves, a deafening thud of brutality about to echo into the night.

What refuses to fall, is Javier De Frutos’ choreography, for what use is a Klub bar with such sumptuous performers without a little dancing? And while an emphasis may principally focus on burlesque numbers, hypnotically risqué and raunchy, the numbers build in gravitas with less push for humour, and more in syncronising strong-footed movements. Captivating, Kara Lily Hayworth, the entirety of the ensemble cast and John Partridge bring together pin-point accurate movement with the production’s infamous soundtrack.

The production’s vocals are human, not quite as polished as a cast-recording maybe, but what this means is performers such as Anita Harris provides humanity to their numbers like So What? Lyrical construction by Fred Ebb is metaphorically haunting, just as much as his catchy show-girl numbers are extravagant in excess. No, numbers Tomorrow Belongs To Me and reprisals of Wilkommen are excellently written, well composed against John Kander’s ridiculously infectious score, are harrowing in their place within the production.

Absent from the abhorrent future the members of the Klub face, Sally Bowles has her trials, though Lily Hayworth’s momentous return to the venue with Cabaret, the titular number, is the blow-out number of the evening. Bowles is a pixyish character, far from our protagonist, with only Harris and James Paterson’s utterly enrapturing Herr Schultz taking this crown, she is a key focus for the show. Lily Hayworth is playful with just enough sting to keep our interest without over-playing the role. She channels Minnelli (it’s impossible not too) but equally makes the part her own, layering on the English-girl trapped in Germany with gusto. Her emotive control of vocals means that even scenes where perhaps there is a lacking tension, are made in waves of talent.

Master of ceremonies, and mischief-maker to the stars, The Emcee is as revoltingly unnerving to watch as they are mesmerically alluring. Thoroughly unpleasant, John Partridge finds infinite sinful delight in the role, turning who should be an out-right antagonist into the principal player. His spider-like movements reflect his knowledge of the strings to pull. That is of course, excluding the rising black eagle which the Emcee seems to feign ignorance of. Partridge’s control is precise, managing to stir the audience into obeying his ever demeaning, domineering command for attention, praise and all they receive in return is the finger, or if we’re lucky a wink. Behind the double-digits of false lashes, the precise choreography and elaborately delicious The Money Song, there are two instances of Partridge’s considerable ability to shock, terrorise and stir poignancy: Tomorrow Belongs to Me and Cabaret’s closing moments.  

Silence in the theatre is deafening, it is either the maker of production or its sentence. No claps or shrill whistles, an audience halted in their jubilant celebrations of Cabaret as reality rears its vulgar presence. This is what the narrative has been building towards, a sinister viper lurking beneath the glitz, awaiting its moment. Its framing is monumentally heart-breaking. The cold bodies, lining against a wall, the eventual downpour, a reminder of Europe’s all too recent history, and the atrocities never to be forgotten.

Tragically, this is where the near-perfection of Cabaret stumbles, in the tonal shifts and merger of the three plot threads. Charles Hagerty does a fine job with an underwritten role, but the delivery lacks charisma. His undertones of battling with his sexuality, his confrontations with the brown-shirts all feel for not when his attitudes towards Bowles and his lacking presence all work against rooting for the character, Hagerty unable to overcome this dislike is sadly swept aside for far more engaging characters. 

And what characters this production has to its name, that the occasional weak link cannot break the behemoth’s chains of excitement. The Cabaret bars of Berlin, where a dying light as oppression grew, hiding from a political wallop on apathy and totalitarianism. Burying their heads in scuzzy hedonism, a hammer looming overhead, Norris’ touring production of Cabaret is a near-perfect sensationalist piece, with a deep social bite to complement its bark.  

Cabaret Runs at Edinburgh Festival Theatre until November 9th: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/cabaret

Photo Credit – The Other Richard

Acosta Danza Evolution ft. Carlos Acosta – Festival Theatre

Principle Artistic Direction by Carlos Acosta

Dance doesn’t solely comprise movement, while the central aspect in a medium without voice, the ability to communicate with an audience through rhythm, music, construct and the beauty of abstract storytelling is paramount. Acosta Danza Evolution is the future of the industry, illustrating their imaginative capabilities with four pieces which, while sharing mirthful talent and passion, couldn’t be more different from one another.

Playing to their narrative strengths, Acosta retells less-recognisable stories. With the playwrighting and choreography of Adrian Silver, Sidi Larbi Cheraoui or Steven Brett, it places audiences on an even keel. Those familiar with dance may have advantages understanding technique, but there is such fresh material from the company that a sense of wonder pervades over veterans just as much as those new to the art form. Dance companies take chances to survive, or risk fading into pleasant, though archaic formats. Acosta Danza Evolution takes conceptual versatility and launches it into the air – rarely, has such amalgam of unique concepts found themselves on the same stage. From the magenta ribbons of zen-like trances, into deep haunting woodlands’ interpretations, and then to the tie-baring rockers of the Rolling Stones’ Lady Jane or Sympathy for the Devil.

Light and shade are mere toys for the artistry on show, bending the resolute which defy traditional movement, particularly for this evening’s triumphs – Satori and Faun. Never has human touch felt so valuable, given a place at the peak of the sensory exhibition as performers meld into one another’s rhythm. Two dancers, one flow, it’s staggering the synchronicity they accomplish – not only with each other but with the score. A composition which echoes the backdrop for Faun, an uncomfortable mixture of unease, yet natural wonder. A woodland setting, with a blanketing fog concealing something hidden in the distance.

Concise in colour, hypnotic in construct, designers Angelo Alberto, Karen Young, Hussein Chalayan and Marian Bruce highlight dancers with precision, straying from flash or morbid displays of tactless shades. Where utilising colour, such as the crimson trim of a dress, an injection of flavour, it’s acutely painful to consider how much thought is in the ideas process of design choices, which work subtle splendours and draw attention. Nowhere is this clearer than a simple magenta skirt, which echoes the Cuban tones of a Zapateo or Salsa. It is in the same performance, where Zeleydi Crespo’s attitude, form and costume conjures an early-Grace Jones stance of female authority. Her movements proud, strong with a paradoxical delicacy in footing.

Fiercely proud, Acosta Danza fuses their Cuban steps with pigeon-foots of Swedish, Eastern Germany, Russia and predominately European dance movement, with an obvious dash of ballet for good measure. With roots in African and Cuban dance, there’s an intensity to all four of these evenings performances, but they couldn’t be further apart in emotional context or choreography. The gravity-Morpheuslike defiance of Satori is in polar opposition to the grounded, rocker ballad battle of the sexes that is the celebration of modern music RoosterSatori’s study of stagnation, momentum through choreography are only complimented with the original score from Pepe Gavilondo’s combination of mesmerising folk, strikes against the electronic acoustics.

In 2020, Carlos Acosta will succeed David Bintley as artistic director of the Birmingham Royal ballet, gracing this evenings production with a performance. Acosta and fellow dancers stitch a needle-like precision of ballet steps, tempering them with club movements, balancing a comedic narrative throughout Rooster, demonstrating how lucky the company will be in the coming years.

Acosta Danza Evolution showcases its namesake profoundly: evolution. Paying tribute to the origins of movement, the bedrock of and African and European dance, unearthing them, throwing them to the winds to watch which will flutter into renewed life. If you have had the pleasure of seeing dance in a form such as this, it is enviable – for Acosta Danza stand apart from various troupes as innovative, bold, and yet offer a profoundly humorous approach to the art which feels akin to family. It may seek to convey mysticism, zen and even abject fear, but couldn’t be further from a welcoming atmosphere. It cannot be stated enough; whether a veteran twinkle-toes or cursed with two left feet, Evolution will enthral you.

Acosta Danza Evolution runs until November 2nd at Festival Theatre Edinburgh, and then continues on tour: http://www.acostadanza.com/en/

Photo Credit – Enrique Smith Soto, Yuris Norido and Panchito Gonzles

Barber Shop Chronicles – The Royal Lyceum

Writer: Inua Ellams

Director: Bijan Sheibani

We incessantly talk to three people; the barman, perhaps a priest, but always your barber. From the outset, there’s catalytic energy bouncing around, flinging us from Africa to the barbers of Catford, Lewisham or Brixton in a showcase of sensational world-building. Poetic in construct, Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles is the height of sublime subtlety, relying on bold, poignant honesty, rather than false-bound spectacle or hollow pathos.

Storytelling through a diverse culture, these barbers are the councillors for generations, providing more than styles and smiles. A chronicle of various encounters, there’s a connection between these men – stretching beyond familial. Yes, cousins may depart, brothers return, but across the globe, they share the same stories; life, death, women, racism and grow from one another, learn from their elders in a way we recognise, but may not have experienced.

Respect for elders laces throughout, with the fleeting moments of aggression resulting from this disrespect or personal grief. This leads to bickers, altercations and a resulting strain between Samuel (Mohammed Mansaray) and Emmanuel (Anthony Ofoegbu), one of three men to originally open the South London barbers. Ofoegbu has a subdued role, impacting with his infectious smiles, language and relationship with the others. With his father in prison, Samuel takes on the family role, but with resentment towards Emmanuel, blaming his cowardice. It’s a change, as culture alters for black men, where some fathers will no longer talk with their fists, but father-figures, and indeed mothers, will listen.

Ramshackle, yet alluring, Rae Smith’s decision to incorporate signs we see in our peripherals, but never pay much attention too, framing them around the set creates a story-narrative to a culture many Lyceum watchers will be unfamiliar with. An intense centrepiece, a globe, sculpted from trash metals, hangs above as we transition from the UK and back. Such stagecraft is known, that as the choreography begins, as the set shifts, you’re left utterly mesmerised, with a determinable instinct to soak it all in.

Despite the pretence, this is anything but a simple piece on masculinity, or indeed it’s toxic form. This is a delicate, dissection of masculinity, but not the focus. The expectations, from cultural to age-related, even to the altering idolisation of Mugabe, Malcolm or Luthor, touching on the masculine ‘norms’ of black youths growing up in South London. Seldom does a production capture it’s culture this firmly yet openly reveals itself – welcoming anyone. There is little anger, but where it flares, like Tom Moutchi’s volleys of vindication, it doesn’t tarnish the production, merely re-affirming its attitude towards life.

Upon entering the theatre, one has expectations to sit, enjoy, perhaps experience an eye-opening commentary, or even a hint of social satire which they will quickly forget. Barber Shop Chronicles obliges all of this and plenty of rhythm. A lyrical weave allows these men to blend cultural dance with modern movement, struck to the beats of Pidgin, Chadic and a variety of dialects. Entirely, the cast is fluid, emitting a slickness as they sway, with Demmy Ladipo’s comedic flailing and Elmi Rashid Elmi’s tight pops stand out.

This is accessible theatre, Ellams’ writing may focus on the culture of black men, particularly those councillors offering a close shave, but in truth, it couldn’t care less who you are. It wants to speak to you, to encourage movement and song with a magnificent sound score. It desires us to open dialogue with one another. Barber Shop Chronicles injects the Autumn streets of Edinburgh with a much needed thrust of blood, bold passion and representation.

Barber Shop Chronicles runs at The Lyceum Theatre until November 9th: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/barber-shop-chronicles

Photo Credit – Marc Brenner