Words: Jo Henwood. Photos: Mark Carline
This week has served to remind me of humanity’s horrible histories. First Chris Williamson MP is suspended from the Labour Party over his comments that it ‘over reacted’ to claims of antisemitism, then I finish reading Choice by Auschwitz survivor Edith Eger and finally I find myself at The Hammond School in Chester watching Cabaret.
The news brings despair, the book hope and the musical is even more poignant now than when I have seen it before, performed in it, choreographed it.
Written by Kander and Ebb with book by Joe Masteroff, Cabaret is based on the play I Am A Camera by John Van Druten, which itself was adapted from the excellent Christopher Isherwood book Goodbye to Berlin.
The story focuses on the naïve American Clifford Bradshaw, who arrives in the city to write his novel, ends up unwittingly smuggling for the Nazis and proposing to the delightful English cabaret singer Sally Bowles and leaves in despair. Life in Berlin in the early 1930s, with the rise of the Nazi party, the treatment of the Jews and the global financial crisis, is reflected throughout in Sally’s place of employment – the sleazy and seedy Kit Kat Klub.
Perfect English Rose
Hannah Kent epitomised Sally, immortalised by Liza Minnelli in the 1972 film Cabaret. The perfect English Rose with the plumiest of accents and a flawless complexion, she warns Cliff (Nick Allen) early on never to ask her any questions. And Hannah maintains that enigma throughout – losing her job, getting pregnant, having an abortion, getting her job back – we know her no better at the end than we do at the beginning. Except that she can sing. Her Cabaret had the audience cheering.
It took me a while to get used to the gender neutral casting of Louise Cowling as Emcee – although gender and sexual fluidity are never out of place at the Kit Kat Klub – but her rendition of Tomorrow Belongs to Me was spine-chilling. Joined by Charlotte Elizabeth and Kathryn Brook Vaines, their Two Ladies was a hoot.
The sub-plot of the burgeoning relationship between Cliff’s landlady Fraulein Schneider and fruit shop owner Herr Schulz can often slow down the flow of the show but Bethany Gregory and Josh Hankey were an absolute delight as we watch their relationship flourish over a pineapple, peak at their engagement party and eventually die, when Ernst Ludwig (James Lockey) points out the ill-advisedness of a German marrying a Jew.
The lack of men in the Kit Kat Klub reflected the true balance of the sexes trying to get work in the entertainment industry but the girls thrusted their way through the raucous choreography with aplomb.
The finale – when the scaffolding set serves as a gas chamber and the piles of shoes are left on the stage – was harrowing. Lest we forget.
My only disappointments were that the orchestra were not ‘beautiful’ – where were the fish net tights and body hugging bodices for MD Aaron Newland-Bentle and his excellent band (especially Reed Gordon Macey who used to teach my children 😉 and that Rudy, Otto, Fritz or Helga were not serving German beer or a glass of Riesling at my Cabaret table. I suppose that is the problem when you put on an adult show at a school which also welcomes four-year-olds!
The Hammond performance is presented by two casts of final year degree students – I saw Cast II.
We have given Cabaret a ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ rating.