Cabaret: Visceral rage of hit musical starring Eddie Redmayne is more chilling and relevant now than we ever imagined it might be

Cabaret! It's the hottest ticket on London's West End right now thanks to two explosive performances, the mesmerising Eddie Redmayne's eerily detached, insect-like Emcee and Jessie Buckley's career defining portrayal of Sally Bowles.

By Liam Rudden
Friday, 4th March 2022, 4:45 pm
Eddie Redmayne as The Emcee and Jessie Buckley as Sally Bowles in Cabaret
Eddie Redmayne as The Emcee and Jessie Buckley as Sally Bowles in Cabaret

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Securing a couple of seats for an evening performance while I was in London recently caused me a brief moment of hesitation, you see, Kander and Ebb's iconic musical is one I've long had a love/hate relationship with, some productions have blown me away, more recently there was one I was forced to escape from during the interval, and, of course, there was the multi Oscar winning 1972 film starring Liza Minnelli, who made the role of Bowles her own and who remains, for many, the definitive.

Indeed it was the movie that first introduced me to the tale of a American writer, Clifford Bradshaw, and English singer, Bowles, brought together in Germany's Weimar Republic as the rise of the Nazis began to impact on people's lives.

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In the time leading up to WWII, as the world around was changing forever, Berlin was the one place where everyone could be free. It was a place to relax, loosen up and be yourself.

The first time I saw Cabaret on stage, it was a student production on the Edinburgh Fringe. I was reviewing. Unfortunately, the director spotted me as I arrived to collect my ticket and insisted on introducing me to his cast as they prepared to go on stage (note to directors, NEVER do this). With just a handful of people in the audience, the Emcee proceeded to play every line to me from the opening number, Willkommen, at one point sitting on my knee as I scribbled away (note to actors, NEVER do this).

The whole experience was excruciating, the production not much better. Out of kindness to the youthful and enthusiastic cast, the review never saw the light of day in the magazine I was editing at the time.

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The first professional production I saw, around the same time, boasted former-ballet dancer Wayne Sleep in the role of the Emcee, a part made famous by Joel Gray in the movie. Like the majority of productions, this 1986 revival stuck fairly closely to the film model but the young Sleep made an engaging and nicely peculiar narrator, managing to give the seedy club compere his own twist.

The current revival at London's Playhouse Theatre, which has been transformed into the Kit Kat Club for the duration, is very different. It's visceral and raw with a rage that courses through the direction, staging and performances - never more so than in Buckley's devastating delivery of Life Is A Cabaret, which is simply breath-taking.

Staying close to the source material, Christopher Isherwood's semi-autobiographical 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin, this production of Cabaret, directed by Rebecca Frecknall, is a brutally dark, immersive masterpiece that is more chilling and relevant now than we ever imagined it might be.

Redmayne and Buckley star until March 19 after which Fra Fee and Amy Lennox will step into the roles of Emcee and Bowles. I might have to go back and compare portrayals.

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