“You should have known by now you’d every cause to doubt me”
Rufus Norris’ restaging of Cabaret was a big hit a few years back (although I never quite managed to make the trip) and it now receives a revival which has toured the UK (where most of my family caught it at the Lowry before me, how very dare they!) in advance of arriving at the Savoy Theatre. Given the high-profile nature of the show, it seems surprising that the lead casting comes somewhat out of left field – the part of the Emcee is taken on by Will Young and the iconic role of Sally Bowles by Michelle Ryan – and it is a gamble with varying results.
Young actually fits this production like a glove. His sinister, rapacious air as he manipulates the Kit Kat club in a striking rendition of Tomorrow Belongs to Me never lets us forget that this is no light-hearted piece of musical theatre fluff but a snapshot of a highly disturbing moment in world history as the German population fell under the spell of Nazism. Kander + Ebb’s deliciously dark musical was based on John Van Druten’s I Am A Camera which could be recently seen in glorious form at Southwark Playhouse, but that in turn was based on Christopher Isherwood’s short story Goodbye to Berlin, his semi-autobiographical account of living in 1930s Germany.
But where Young matches his surprisingly effective acting with his already-established vocal prowess, Michelle Ryan’s Sally – emerging as quite a proficient singer – doesn’t bring the requisite dramatic heft to bear. She’s never less than good, occasionally excellent, but she just carries too much self-assuredness about her which means one never gets the note of emotional fragility, of desperation that should make Maybe This Time feel like an anguished plea. She also doesn’t really connect to Matt Rawle’s strongly played Clifford, the Isherwood figure, a relationship which ought to pulse at the heart of the show.
Elsewhere though, support is excellent. Siân Phillips’ Fräulein Schneider and Linal Haft’s Herr Schultz, their burgeoning relationship being poignantly threatened by the rise in anti-Semitism is most moving indeed and Harriet Thorpe is underused but great as the flighty Fräulein Kost, reprising her role from the previous production. Katrina Lindsay’s asymmetric design ensures the show always looks the part, with Javier de Frutos’ choreography adding to the seedy glamour and Norris’ accomplished touch adding invention in unexpected places.
You will have to go elsewhere to look for comparisons between this production and the 2006 one – apparently whole sections have been restaged – but on its own merits, this Cabaret can stand quite proudly as an effective, evocative piece of theatre and if Michelle Ryan may leave a few a bit disappointed, Will Young more than makes up for it by subsuming himself completely with a most impressive performance.