Cabaret / our review

stunning ESCAPIST Spectacular

May 21st, 2021



Cabaret at the Playhouse Theatre

The production begins from your allotted start time as you enter the repurposed Playhouse Theatre - now transformed into the Kit Kit Club by Ambassador Theatre Group and Underbelly into the Weimar era nightclub of the musical.

From the seedy whitewashed brick basement that used to serve as the stage door, you're greeted by the offer of a free drink (beer or a hairs-on-the-chest shot of Schnapps) before emerging into a gloriously reconfigured auditorium, decked out in velvet and glittering gold. Had I not been to the Playhouse numerous times (from a school trip to see Journey's End to the Rocky Horror Show) I would not be sure I was in the same place. The proscenium arch has been abolished, with the stage now unapologetically in the round. Around it are the expensive two-seater tables where the great and the good are given a close up (and the odd dance from a performer or two) - but I hasten to add our seats in row A of the gods were fantastic, especially for this diminutive reviewer. Wherever you sit and however depleted your bank balance (I asked a fellow theatergoer how much he paid for his stage-side experience, he grimaced and said: "enough"), we all are treated to the same, ebullient, stupendously acted, directed, and choreographed show.

And what a show it is. If you, like this reviewer, love the film and have never made it to a staged production, you may be confused, but not disappointed. There are differences, one or two obvious; including Sally Bowles' lack of vocal prowess and the fact she's English, ala Christopher Isherwood's original source material, and there are similarities, this version, after Sam Mendes' includes the film's torch song, 'Maybe This Time' alongside Kander and Ebb's delicious soundtrack. But on the whole, if you loved Liza, you'll love this. 

As I write, the production rides high on its well-deserved 11 Olivier nominations, covering the beats that make the show a dazzling spectacle; choreography, direction for Rebecca Frecknall, costume, lighting, and more, including a nomination for supporting actor Elliott Levy as Herr Schultz (who shines as the lovelorn Schultz, alongside Vivian Parry as Frau Schnieder). But the elephant in the room is the lack of the two leads who opened the show and have now left, leaving Fra Free and Amy Lennox in their places as the Emcee and Sally Bowles. Are they good? Are they as entertaining? With a resounding yes, a thousand times, I can say they are phenomenal. Free has a fantastic time as the sinister showman, playing for both cheers and spine chilling shudders, he is magnetic be it in full Emcee mode (Willkommen) or wraithlike harbinger of doom for 'Money, Money Money'. He captures the two faces of this play remarkably, with Lennox matching him for intensity. As Sally, she embodies the strong showgirl and the self-sabotaging woman underneath, popping out dressed as a rebellious doll (Don't Tell Mama) and thrilling us, before the double punch of the positivity of 'Maybe This Time' and its opposite, 'Cabaret', easy navigating both with superstar ease, breaking both Clint's and our hearts as she decides to follow the nightlife even while the Nazi wolf is at the door. It's a shame that both these performers are not eligible for the aforementioned Oliviers, because these turns are more than award-worthy.

The ensemble, made up of a range of boy, girl, and gender-fluid performers, more than round out the cast, each embodying their show person with glee and talent, emanating joy to be there and do one of the most fun jobs in the world. I was in love with all of them before the end of the first half. Other standouts include Anna-Jane Casey as Frau Klout, Sally and Cliff's hilarious neighbor with a sailor fetish, and Stewart Clarke as Ernst, who plays wonderfully friendly and then sinister when revealed to be Nazi, pushing the play towards its final drum rolling climax.

At its heart, Cabaret is a story of ignorance and doomed hope. It appeals during this omnishambles of a world, offering sweet surrender inside the club while the world outside burns, and in here, life is beautiful. If I could stay forever, I would.

View our show pages for more information about Cabaret, Playhouse Theatre.

Cabaret, Playhouse Theatre, London


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Playhouse Theatre: Until Sep 28, 2024

A bold and daring new production of the Kander and Ebb classic; Cabaret is now playing at the Playhouse Theatre. This immersive new take introduces audiences to Berlin's seedier side at the Kit Cat Club....more info

Book TicketsBook tickets for Cabaret, Playhouse Theatre, London


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