Venue: Bellerby Studio Theatre, PPA, Riverside Business Park, Guildford
Credits: Music by John Kander. Lyrics by Fred Ebb. Book by Jo Masteroff
Author: Chris Abbott
Performance Date: 12/11/2015
Chris Abbott | 13 Nov 2015 10:46am
Cabaret is a popular show, regularly revived professionally and often presented by amateur groups, who sometimes struggle to cast the dancers for the Kit Kat Club. For the students of Performance Preparation Academy in Guildford this was no problem; the challenge for them, perhaps, was to portray the important older characters in the cast. They rose to that challenge very effectively however, and this was a well thought-out and entertaining version of an old favourite, in a traverse-style studio theatre, full of haze and red table lamps, at PPA’s base.
Bringing out the bleakness and violence of the story worked well, and Director Richard Mulholland’s decision to overtly link the Emcee with the Nazi oppressors added to the challenge for the actor playing the role. This challenge was enthusiastically taken up by Andrew Patrick Walker, banishing all thoughts of his predecessors, and with a steely brutality discernible beneath the red moustache and eyebrows. The decision to cut the ape suit from If You Could See Her, in favour of beating up one of the chorus girls as the Emcee sang, stunned the audience into silence; and the rapid onset of violence towards the end mirrored the real-life events portrayed. The final tableau was effective although perhaps inspired by the recent Rufus Norris version, but elsewhere there was much real originality in this production.
Excellent use was made of the Kit Kat girls by casting them also as young mothers singing Tomorrow Belongs to Me, and it was good to see the inclusion of numbers like Meeskite that are sometimes cut. A rethink of Two Ladies to use a sucession of pairs of ladies worked well and gave more opportunities to the cast. These were intelligent and pragmatic changes.
Unlike the film, the stage show has four main roles, with Herr Schultz and Fräulein Schneider having a large amount of stage time. Playing these roles, Helen Slade (on the night I attended – several of the main roles are double-cast) and Dan Stark avoided the pitfalls of external aging; in place of grey wigs and make-up, they aged through bearing, attitude and movement; they may not have looked the parts but they certainly acted them well.
James Hudson gave a thoughtful and convincing reading of Cliff, surely the most boring leading man role in musical theatre, and at the performance I attended, Robyn Pescetto presented a Sally Bowles who was more English Rose than sleazy nightclub singer, but perhaps all the more effective as a result.
The whole show revolved, however, around the Emcee and the Kit Kat girls, all portrayed most effectively as individual and different people. It was a great opportunity for the audience to see the show in such an immersive way, surrounded by the dancers and giving a real feel of being part of the nightclub.
The simple set was also very helpful in portraying the atmosphere of the club, as well as providing suitable playing areas for scenes on trains and in boarding houses. The scenes outside the club sometimes lost pace a little and the excellent set, giving full opportunity for Lewis Butler’s well-rehearsed choreography, did present some challenges when no tables are available.
The Prairie Oyster scene and others were managed well however, with some inventive use of pockets. The piano, bass and drums under Musical Director Tom Turner provided very appropriate accompaniment from their base under the stairs, although sound levels seemed better during the instrumental sections; at times it was difficult to hear some of the soloists, especially when they were turned away from the audience, inevitable at times in this configuration.
These are all minor points however; this was an excellent account of a classic of musical theatre, and it will be fascinating to see it alongside I am a Camera, the play on which it is based, and which PPA are also presenting.