Review: Cabaret, New Theatre Oxford
Sexy and sad in equal measure, classic musical Cabaret hit the New Theatre with an all-star cast this Feb. Read our review here.
I prised my 18-year-old away from Love Island last night and set off to the New Theatre to see if life really is a cabaret, old chum. I’ve never seen the show before (can you even believe?), but the lure here was the stellar cast, in particular EastEnder-turned-West-Ender John Partridge as the Emcee, as he’s fast becoming Britain’s favourite leading man when it comes to musical theatre. John was joined by seasoned professional Anita Harris as Fraulein Schneider (seeing her took me back to the days of 3 TV channels, thanks to her turns in Morecambe and Wise and the classic Carry On films).
Cabaret opens in the famous Kit Kat Club Berlin, on New Year’s Eve 1931. The belipsticked Emcee manages to steer the audience through the debauched activities of the underworld, with just the right combination of salacious and sinister, in a way that Partridge absolutely nailed. You know Muddy, we generally love a little debauchery, but the atmosphere was one of never letting you fully relax back into your cushy theatre seat. I hadn’t prepared my 18-year-old for the nudity that was on display in the opening songs, but hey, this is the Kit Kat Club, where anything goes, right?
Enter fresh-faced writer Cliff (Charles Hagerty), who meets a frivolous Sally Bowles played by Kara Lily Hayworth – a role you’ll recognise from the Liza Minelli days. Whilst Sally relentlessly pursues her love interest, the audience are treated to some proper old-fashioned romance between Frau Schneider and Herr Schultz (James Patterson) that thoroughly warmed my cockles. There are some big numbers in Cabaret, but Kara Lily Hayworth holds her own without being shadowed by the indomitable Minelli voice. Her vulnerability in ‘Maybe This Time’ was genuinely moving.
It is in the second half of the show that the pace, pressure and menace crank up a notch – which is to be expected in a story about the rise of Naziism. No story spoilers here, but the big and heart breaking decisions made by some of the characters ramp up the tension by about ten million. Anita Harris’s experience shines through in both song and word, and her dancing was equally on point – Strictly should take note.
Whilst credit goes to the lead roles, it would be impossible not to mention Javier du Frutos’s stunning choreography in the set piece dance routines, which were energetic and saucy in good measure. There were several humorous little touches in this production – I certainly hadn’t anticipated seeing a penis, a pineapple and a giraffe’s head all in the first half. But, ever the trooper, I embraced the frivolity, whilst the 18 year old looked… stoic.
While Cabaret was packed with comedy, there is a far more serious message at the heart of the show. Songs such as ‘If You Could See Her’ shocked and challenged the audience, as did the Emcee’s haunting ‘I Don’t Care Much’, and the tragic finale will stay with me for a very long time.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone with an appreciation for classic, well-loved theatre – or John Partridge in the nude! The audience on the night was a real mixed bag, so it goes to show that this appeals to a good mix of people.
Not for: Prudes, or young’uns with delicate sensibilities. The official age guidance is 13+ and there’s full-frontal nudity on display here, so be warned if taking easily embarrassed teens!
See Cabaret at New Theatre Oxford until Sat 8 Feb.
Review: Rachel McLoughlin