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

Bull – The Space @ Niddry St.

Written by Mike Bartlett

Directed by Adam Tomkins

Runs at The Space @ Niddry St until August 24th (not 18th), 17.20pm

Bullying doesn’t stop when you hit adulthood – they just change up the tactics. With such a fine line between workplace harassment and genuine levels of manipulation, Mike Bartlett’s Bull examines the insane power of the spoken word, the ferociousness of human fulfilment and elements of elitist office politics.

A cull’, that’s how Bull refers to the difficult decision of ending someone’s employment. Eradication of the weak or even just the unfortunate? Three employees Tony, Isobel & Thomas await their fate. For Tony & Isobel, the choice is clear, Thomas has to go, and they will ensure he does.

Ravenous, though slick in their attack, both Tony and Isobel bring different tactics in a way to psych Thomas out, tripping over his insecurities. Tony, from the outset, is disgustingly smooth – a viper, coiling, biding its time. Jamie Stewart’s control is enviable, loathsome, treacherous and sneaky.

Teetering on the edge of capturing the role perfectly, genuine hate though eludes in moments. They’re a little too funny, too human to spit venom at. Certainly not from lack of trying, it takes Isobel a touch longer for us to begin to antagonise her, as Nayia Anastasiadou’sperformance seems irritatable rather than calculating, it’s only in the closing moments we gain a sense of the terror beneath, drawing blood with smirks.

Bartlett’s text is a staple of not only the Fringe but performing arts. Relentless in its aggressive demonstration of power play, it’s about tearing someone down onstage, yet still making your audience laugh. Its characters are sickening, manipulative, but hilarious. That is, except for Thomas.

Thomas is, in use of gross terminology, the ‘beta’ male. Far from innocent, one must note the misery in his performance, pathetic is a tricky angle – at the risk of having yourself, a performer, seen this way rather than your character. Ignoring this, giving Thomas a distinctly pitiful, but far from heroic portrayal, Jake McGarry finds a balance in which you want to run onto the stage and slap him into fighting back.

Adam Tomkins’ direction pits the three in chess-like manoeuvres. Every movement’s methodical, a counteract from another character’s step. There’s a dance element to it, elegant in their dedication to locking their prey into each trap set.

A fascinating look into the length’s people will go to for self-preservation, Bull is an eye-opening dark comedy which pushes the envelope in its characters likability. A series of humorous, though perhaps too identifiable performances make Arbery productions a must-see for those searching for an intelligent laugh while exploring the vices of human nature.

Tickets available from: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/bull-1

Women in Parliament – Lauriston Hall

Original Play – Aristophanes

New Translation by Andrew Wilson

Stage Director and Design by Michael Scott

Tickets available for June 27th and 28th from Usher Hall at: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/whats-on/aristophanes-women-parliament

In translating, an impressive feat, to begin with, Andrew Wilson does an exceptional job in capturing the original structure, satire and levity of Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae or Women in Parliament. It has all the comforts of ancient Greece; hookers, cross-dressing and poo, but it has a distinct Lothians stamp of lively dance, song and self-depreciation.

Athens of the North, Edinburgh to you and I. She shares a tremendous amount with her sister to the South, they both value a feast, a tremendous sense of culture and a responsibility towards democracy, right? Well, far from it really. Time moves forward, we evolve, we advance – but politics roughly remains the same. An assortment of privilege, wealth and lacking in diversity. Aristophanes wrote a series of plays in which the foolishness of men, was highlighted by women. He wasn’t a revolutionary feminist, however. Instead, the women are merely a way to highlight the absurdity of government, how they ‘argue solutions but never come to conclusion’.

Pictured: Hazel Eadie

If for a second you suspect this to have a hidden agenda, with a profound political message and commentary – then all the power to you. Women in Parliament, in keeping with its ancient counterpart, revels in the ludicrous nature of its construction. It isn’t pushing a ‘feminist’ agenda but instead firing pointed harpoons at the current states of government. No one is safe. Not Tory, nor Liberal, Nor defenceless Jeremy Corbyn.

While in the North, it seems fitting to amend the text with Scots dialect and reference. Outside of the Political, Wilson’s translation achieves some of its distinct humour through Aristophanes second favourite pastime after sex – defecating. Oh yes, scatological witticism is rife in the Streets of Athens this evening, so please watch your footing. For those unfamiliar, you will need a slight adjustment time to the toilet humour, but once consigning yourself to the loose bowels of Blepyrus (Mike Towers) you’ll be sure to snigger along.

He, along with Chris Allan, brings a sense of false patriarchal grandeur to the proceedings. Allan, in particular, holds the constant stage presence this evening. Standing against this – leading a procession of marching women determined to undermine the Men of government, who were clearly doing such an exceptional job, are Prazxagora (Angela Estrada) and her crew of disgruntled, beard-clad women.

Pictured: Angela Estrada

Estrada, arguably our lead turns a stellar performance with what is an undoubtedly complex script. While others may stumble and fade, she keeps her pacing and level of authority. She has a way with words which draws our ear immediately, illustrating parallels with other ‘silver-tongued’ world leaders.

Mainly on the fault of Aristophanes (easier to blame the centuries deceased) than Wilson, classical texts traditionally have an altogether different style of pacing. Any accustomed to the likes of Lysistrata will recognise the structure, short finale and bloated early scenes. Scott, along with the cast, seems to anticipate this – making jabs at the audiences snoozing’s and interacting to keep their attention.

Design in mind, Michael Scott’s thrust style staging places the action in the centre of Lauriston Hall. We’re effectively on the back benches observing the baboons dance before us. A backdrop, a tart’s boudoir pink splashed across some doors and windows make for comical entrances, exits and scene change signage. This, along with Gordon Hughes’ lighting design makes for an intense richness from this evening’s performance. Never has a brothel looked quite as sinisterly appealing, or so we are informed…Emily Nash and Gordon Horne doing their best to both entice and repulse us.

Pictured: Colin Povey and Charlie Munro

With such a large venue, quite often our eyes drift to something happening far across the stage. The inclusion of slaves David Cree, Robert Seaton and Alasdair Watson make for slapstick scene changes, but when their buffoon antics occur several feet from where our attention should be focusing, it’s quite distracting.

So, no need to take a visit to ancient Greece, we seem to be living it. Athens of the North’s presentation of Women in Parliament is a delightful homage to Aristophanes’ original, injecting its own Scottish heritage through rhyming verse. It has issues with pacing, a few wayward performances and complexity in a narrative which will be lost on many, but it’s an appealing text, rich in satire and playfulness. A production worthy of support, a delicate blend of classical literature and toilet jokes – what’s not to love?

Runs until June 28th, tickets available from Usher Hall at: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/whats-on/aristophanes-women-parliament