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Cabaret

Edinburgh Playhouse
4 stars
A recession always loves a musical. Kander and Ebb’s triumphantly feel-bad interpretation of Weimar era Berlin, though, not only charts the back-street decadence of dark times, but the accompanying rise of the extreme right and the persecution of minorities that goes with it. If ever a commercial block-buster chimed perfectly with the here and now, this is it. As Henry Luxemburg’s penniless writer Cliff Bradshaw falls in with an underground bohemian scene epitomised by good time chanteuse Sally Bowles, it’s what happens after someone calls time on the party that makes Cabaret so consistently fascinating.

Rufus Norris’ 2006 west end production is revived here in a touring incarnation that stays true to some of the original’s more maverick touches. This most notably stems from Javier de Frutos’ libidinous choreography and a concentration on the play’s more serious side. A jaunty first half is kicked off by Wayne Sleep’s impish Emcee peeking through a giant billboard on which the word ‘Willkomen’ is emblazoned like an epitaph. By the time the act ends with an Aryan youth singing Tomorrow Belongs To Me, Sally’s flibbertigibbet days look numbered.

There’s an irony in something so slickly realised depicting such a messy world, and at times one longs for things to be edgier. Yet there remains an integrity to the production, with some great performances on show. Making her professional debut as Sally, TV talent show contestant Samantha Barks may not yet have the full emotional range required for the role, but sings well and grows more comfortable as the evening progresses. The final image of the gas chambers and the silence that follows, however, is a chilling moment.

The Herald, March 25th 2009

ends

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