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Cabaret

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Five stars

Will Young's pasty-faced Emcee pokes his head through the giant 'O' in the word 'WILLKOMMEN' that covers the stage curtain at the start of this touring revival of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb's finest musical hour. Young's peek-a-boo moment shatters through something monumental, even as it hails the coming new order. With Emcee the gate-keeper to Berlin's 1930s underground club scene, Young resembles a malevolent doll in leather lederhosen. By the end of the first act, Young is pulling the strings, as he leads a chilling version of Tomorrow Belongs To Me.

Such are the delicious contradictions of a show originally drawn from Christopher Isherwood's Berlin stories, with Young Olivier nominated when he first appeared in Rufus Norris' West End production five years ago. On the one hand, Joe Masteroff's book is a damning indictment of how austerity culture and mass disaffection is exploited by populist demagogues. On the other, Kander and Ebb's fistful of show-tunes that first wowed Broadway in 1966 remain powerful enough to have become standards. Either way, this is a thrilling rendition of decadent Europe's last hedonistic gasp before the bullies moved in.

The party is already over by the time Charles Hagerty's American wannabe writer Cliff stumbles into the Kit Kat Club and collides with the force of nature that is Sally Bowles, played here by Louise Redknapp as a woman in glamorous denial of what's coming beyond the bed-hopping. If the show's conscience is seen through the relationship between Susan Penhaligon's Fraulein Schneider and Linal Haft's Herr Schultz, it's edge comes through Javier de Frutos' daring choreography. Played out by the eleven-strong chorus against Katrina Lindsay's expressionist set, the moves are by turns cheeky, lascivious and unashamedly thrusting. By the time of the play's final, startling scene, the dancing has stopped, in a shockingly current warning of what might happen next.

 
The Herald, November 20th 2017

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