Cabaret: escapism at its most lavishly entertaining

Footlights are trying their hand at Cabaret, the popular musical first performed in 1966, based on the 1939 short novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood. They will perform at the Lemon Grove on Tuesday the 26th, Thursday the 28th and Friday the 29th. The piece centres on the relations of Sally Bowles, a young English cabaret performer, and Cliff Bradshaw, an aspiring American novelist, in the setting of the Nazi rise to power in Berlin. The play is punctuated by the appearance of the charismatic Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat night club, and also follows the ill-fated love story between Cliff’s landlady and a Jewish fruit vendor.

Footlights embarked on this ambitious project five weeks ago, with the challenging prospect of reproducing a much loved and frequently re-interpreted cabaret. I attended one of the final rehearsals, and was able to see the fruits of the cast’s, band’s and production team’s labour. At a pace of five rehearsals a week during exam period, this production has clearly advanced thanks to the intensity of the participants’ dedication, and the results are highly entertaining.

The casting is especially astute: Ben Phillip who plays Emcee, the Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat club, perfectly captures the dark undercurrent of the storyline, and seems to remind the spectator that amid the frivolities and decadence of the time, there was an ever-present threat. Henry Cox fills the character of Cliff Bradshaw with the right balance of naiveté and Yankee charm, while Harriet Doyle charms and enchants as Sally Bowles.

In terms of what goes on on stage, the word burlesque inevitably comes into mind. The band produces the upbeat soundtrack for the Kit Kat club dancers, whose enthusiasm and cheekiness is catching. They bring lightness to the play, and a measure of relief from the plot as it gradually unravels. One-on-one ballads are also recurring, and permit the cast to really exhibit emotion.

This play promises to be an outrageously entertaining piece, filled with flapper dresses, garters, song and heart. Though on the surface it exhibits the lighter side of musical theatre, Cabaret also delves into the grotesque side of decadence and evokes the political and moral strife of the rise of Nazism.

Melanie Mackay

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