The secret of good timing is comedy, as the saying doesn’t go. This re-run of Cabaret – thematically about the rise of nothing-goes fascism in an anything-goes 1930s Berlin – is painfully well-timed, and just about the only way you can shake off the shivers of ominous resonance with 2017 is through the comedy.
Which is a lot to put on the shoulders of still-young Will Young, but with this starry reprise of his already well-garlanded role as the MC (Emcee) in Rufus Norris’s production of the 1966 Broadway musical, the ex-Pop Idol can surely be said now to put the ‘Will’ in “Willkommen im Kabaret”.
The story, based loosely on the 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood, takes place, in alternating scenes, in a down-at-heel lodging house and the Kit Kat Klub, a place of unabashed ill-repute bestridden by “toast of Mayfair” Sally Bowles (played here by Louise Redknapp) in all her stockinged-and-suspendered glory.
Naïve American writer Cliff Bradshaw (excellently acted by Charles Hagerty) is drawn there, and to the catlike femininity of Sally…and to Bobby (definitely male).
Only as the sub-plot weaves itself round the sharp, terrifying corners of the Swastika does this X-rated pantomime of boobs and bottoms thicken into a sickening pre-echo of Holocaustic nudity.
Phew! Anyway, on the bright side are some dazzling performances, not least of which are the dazzlingly sparse set designs, which offer stark brutality of light-vs-shade contrast between the loud, lewd glamour of the Kit Kat Klub and the smoky grey light-shards over the lodging house where an old Jew and an old German (one can’t be both, say the Nazis) are tragically falling in love.
Then there is the acting, dancing and singing, the majority of which is a joy, especially with Young, whose acrobatic voice and seedy pierrot antics carry the show. Redknapp has the creamiest vibrato imaginable, but the lovable ex-Strictly runner-up might be first to admit she’s upstaged in the acting by Young and others, noticeably by the brilliant Basienka Blake as Fräulein Kost, whose tragic-comic role selling body and soul for money dislodges Redknapp’s Sally Bowles from the female limelight.
The band, all lewd jazz with rude trombones and saucily muted trumpets, is a delight, as is the choreography – especially in a hilarious seven-in-a-bed routine. And there are some spine-tingling song-singing moments, or maybe more accurately spine-chilling, as the chorus declame the words “Oh, Fatherland Fatherland” from the song Tomorrow Belongs To Me loud enough to wake the dead spirits of the hideous Hitler Youth.
Berlin’s Kit Kat Klub still exists, and the city is again one of the most open-minded on Earth, but the revival of Nazism thanks to the Far Right in the Reichstag makes this revival of Cabaret – and its morbid fascination for fascism – even more unwatchably watchable.
Cabaret is at The Lowry in Salford until November 11, 2017. For tickets, click here.
For tour details, click here.