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

A War of Two Halves – Tynecastle Stadium

Written by Paul Beeson & Tim Barrow

Directed by Bruce Strachan

Musical Direction by Matthew Brown

Runs at Tynecaslte Stadium from August 11th – 26th, Various Times

Marking the centenary of the 1918 Armistice, drawing influence from the 1914 Hearts Team (The Bravest Team), A War of Two Halves is promenade theatre from writers Paul Beeson & Tim Barrow. Taking us through the journey these players would make, from locker-room to trenches of the Somme. If at any point you took at glance at this production, do not wait a moment longer to book a ticket. You will never regret it.

In the confines of the Hearts home locker room, you’ll find yourself transporting back through time, breathing in the sweat, glory and hardships of the team. The directness in Beeson & Barrow production is not a glorification of war. It is a tribute, a reminder of these valiant men who would surrender their chance at a League title, their careers and regrettably their lives.

You’ll find an itchy finger searching for a phone to take pictures at first, and, how couldn’t you? The production allows a venture through the unseen belly of Tynecastle. As the gravity weighs down, this will stop. The performances are so strikingly mortal that all technology, chatter and outside influences cease. It’s a remarkable testament to power on display here.

There are three types of people who aren’t meant to show their emotions or distresses: Men, Footballers and Soldiers. These lads were all three. After all this time, all this suffering, Alfie Briggs can re-live the events, and hopefully, find some sense of closure.

Alternating performances with Paul Beeson, Bryan Lowe performs the role of Briggs this evening. Encouraging us to follow there are no worries entrusting everything with our narrator. Lowe elevates this production into realms of immense story-telling talent. The entire space around him shifts back a century at a word.

The manner of introducing a full cast of McCrae’s battalion can lead to unbalance in depiction. Every performer though treats his or her role with respect. No doubt a combination of stellar acting with Strachan’s direction, this is a conclusive manner in which to introduce a cast, enthralling us, wrapping ourselves into each of them.

Michael Wallace, Charlie Wake, Mark Rannoch, Scott Kyle, Paul Beeson, Tim Barrow and Fraser Bryson do not portray characters. They are those men. The comradery, aggression, fear and levity are wholly human. In particular, the dedication of Kyle and Rannoch, to such complex roles is commendable.

At multiple occasions, a visceral lump will take up residence in your throat. Don’t be afraid to let it out, you can sense that the audience is waiting for someone to cry, so they can follow suit. We are in good company, as Hannah Howie guide us to our destination. Underscoring the event chiefly through violin, Matthew Brown’s musical direction is as harrowing as it is elegant.

Strachan concentrates on drawing humanity. They are heroes of Scottish football, heroes of war, but they’re mortal. Tynecastle isn’t being utilised for the image alone, Strachan knows precisely why each segment takes place where it does. From the howls of match-time frustrations on the new main stand to the heart-breaking moment as the team, donning their maroon and khaki, frog march down the long corridors. As they fade away, the weight of this production sinks harder than you can imagine.

During the Fringe, people won’t look past the city centre. What they’re missing is a wealth of earthy, red-blooded theatre without a trace of superficial motive. The thought that has gone into this piece of theatre, beyond performance and venue, deserves every ounce of respect we can muster. A War of Two Halves is a stunning piece of writing, with a sentimental heart of reverence.

Tickets available from: www.tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/war-of-two-halves

Photography by Tony McGeever

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – King’s Theatre

Based on the Novel by Louis de Bernières

Adapted by Rona Munro

Directed by Melly Still

Something remarkable occurs on stage this evening. Amidst the inconceivable atrocity of war, the explosions and pain, Rona Munro achieves a paradox in a way only she could. To find beauty in war. A statement which feels wrong, but it’s precisely what Captain Corelli’s Mandolin reaches. It has the angst; harrowing anguish of war yet has a deep ornate construction.

Based on the 1994 novel by Louis De Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a wartime drama set in Italian and German-occupied Greece, on the island of Cephalonia. We open with a young soldier by the name of Carlos, speaking to the titular Captain of a story. His story. Though really, this narrative goes beyond the simplistic and into the strikingly poetic in its language and storytelling. As we explore the island, a young woman, Pelagia finds desire. Only for us to come to realise that where passion ebbs, love may be found in a sworn enemy.

It may be a story of the various ways in which love may manifest; parental, passionate, harmonious or the love of comrade. At its heart though, both narratively and on stage is Pelagia, played by Madison Clare. Melly Still’s direction, in tandem with excellent writing from Munro help, lift a character who could so easily have been a throwaway ‘strong woman’ motif. What these three do, with performer Clare at Pelagia’s core is craft a determined, human character who is fleshed out, fun and engaging.

The points of beauty are found in three aspects of this evening’s production; It’s poetic language, it’s cast but also in Mayou Trikerioti’s set design. An enveloping sheet metal warped and battered like any scrap of war hangs precariously above. Its blank template becomes a visual feast with Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting. Where communication is not verbal, the shifting colours of fire, ocean and blood speak volumes. 

As always, direct comparisons between a five-hundred-page novel and a two-hour production are inherently fruitless. Instead, Munro’s adaption captures the essence of the book in spirit, losing only a little of its flesh. There’s always something wholly investing, yet terrifying about viewing history from the view of another. Our experiences in Britain are no less tormenting, but so different to an island off of Greece where these were ‘bad – circumstances’.

In trimming the gristle, a slice of taste has been lost. For the most part, a sublime balance is achievable in the back and forth interactions of the village folk, a tremendous amount at the hands of Clare and Joseph Long. There are moments, however, where we cross into (dare we say it) romantic comedy territory. It has the late eighties, early nineties vibe where we briefly confuse our characters for Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. In pursuit of comedy, interactions sit oddly beside the intricate choreography and chilling vocals of Eve Polycarpou.

This too means pacing for the second Act stretches slightly, the climaxes of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin are numerous. With each travesty or revelation, they try to outdo the other. It works on occasion, ripping each gasp from the audience with glee, but towards the end, there isn’t much breath left. The sumptuous use of music already taking most of our breathes away.

Alex Mugnaioni’s Captain Corelli is the embodiment of quixotic intention, impossible not to warm to. It makes the slow-burn of the romance between him and Clare all the more believable. Their chemistry is superb, we invest heavily in not only the romance but the growing friendship and initial animosity between the pair. Interactions between the entire cast are emotive, with Long’s Dr Iannis a connection to the audience, regaling us with Grecian myths to draw parallels with social history.

A unique production which finds itself basking in its adoration for music, love and community – strengthening their importance against the harrows of war. As an adaptation, it serves the source material well only succumbing to a couple tropes in the process. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a hauntingly beautiful piece of theatre, moving its audience.  

Tickets available until June 22nd: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/captaincorelli

Production Touring: http://www.captaincorellismandolin.com/

Image rights: Marc Brenner