Theatre in Wales

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Mein Lieber Herr, It Was A Fine Affair

Cabaret

Coleg Ceredigion Performing Arts , Castle Theatre, Aberystwyth , June-14-18
Cabaret by Coleg Ceredigion Performing Arts John Kander, now aged 91, and Fred Ebb are up there among the greats, their popularity greater than ever. Another production of “Chicago” is current in London, as is a revival of the lesser known “the Rink” from 1984. The late-career “Scottsboro Boys” from 2010 still had the power to shock and outrage. And “Cabaret” is set to be a perennial.

True to form, Sondheim viewed “Cabaret” through a distinctive lens. He saw it as akin to his own “Company”, written four years later. Formally it is an essay in counterpoint with full-company interludes. Two relationships of different generations founder for different reasons. Herr Schultz (Osian Harries) must leave the Nollendorfplatz rooming-house in the face of implacable anti-semitism. Straight guy from Pennsylvania Cliff Bradshaw (Bradley Leonard) and combustible Sally Bowles ( Jessica Jeavons) are simply incompatible.

This strand of the musical is anchored in two songs of depth of emotion. Sally sings “Maybe This Time” and Fraulein Schneider has her late number “What would you do?” For both numbers the singers stand still under a spotlight. It is no easy thing for a teenager to be given the part of a sixty-year old. Here the lighting design (also Jessica Jeavons) is placed vertically above the performer, the shadow cast over cheekbones aiding the simulacrum of age.

Both solos are carried off with superb conviction. “Grown old like me/ With neither the will nor wish to run” are the lines of a survivor, helpless against the battering of historical circumstance. For Sally, Fred Ebb's lines run “Maybe this time, he'll stay/ Maybe this time/ For the first time/ Love won't hurry away.” Jessica Jeavons gets it absolutely, in all its pathos of desperation.

The relationships are intercut with the composite scenes from the Kit Kat Club. Lex Urry is the Emcee who presides over his company of escapees from the outside world. The performance space of the Castle is maximised with the audience on either side of the theatre. Props are minimal, Cliff's type-writer, a movable door, a few night-club tables with red table-cloths, eight bentwood chairs. The use of this long rectangle of space allows high energy for Carl Lewis' choreography. The collective dancing from Helga (Becca Riches), Texas (Izabela Burkitt), Fritzie (Harriet Evola-Quinn), Rosie (Milly McAvoy), Frenchie (Jade Evans), Zizi (Zoe Lister) and Lulu (Abby Griffiths) is assured and accomplished.

These young dancers can do hand-stands. They can do that move perfected at the Moulin Rouge. The dancer stands on one foot while a hand holds the ankle of the other leg. The talent of young Wales never ceases to awe. The performers admittedly have benefit of a skilled and demanding choreographer. But the choreographer is a sculptor who can only work with the essential grain of the material. The talent is deep; the rest is dedication.

The last time “Cabaret” was reviewed for this site it was the production of Rufus Norris, which ran and ran, toured and toured. The company here wears a few more clothes than in the Norris production but not by a large degree. The Kit Kat company are in creamy satiny camisoles. The men- Hans (Jay Boswell), Bobby/Ernst (Tristan Clemas), Victor (Osian Harries)- are shirtless but wear braces, knee-length socks and shorts. The spirit of androgyny is taken from Weimar's neue sachlichkeit art. Liz McAvoy is costume designer.

Musical theatre is music and the role of the three musicians in plain sight, also shirtless with bowties and slicked back hair, is crucial. James Salmon's keyboard is the base but Nils Margraff-Turley's trumpet is superb for capturing the Weimar in Kander's score. Carl Lewis has done something interesting with “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” In its first singing Lex Urry puts on an impressive falsetto. But in its reprise it has been stripped of all faux-sweetness. The group singing gives it a rightful corrective harshness that is underpinned by the ferocity of Jordan Jones' kettle drum.

Carl Lewis is a gifted performer, the loss to South Wales being greatly to Ceredigion's gain. The underlying directorial thrust is to give “Cabaret” an air of harsh frisson. It is after all about a society that tips over the edge, where love and life are destroyed in the cause of racial exclusivity. Originally, the musicians take a break for a techno-version of “Tainted Love” to play for dancers in leather. “Tainted Love” fits. Coincidentally the talented Tristan Clemas has a passing resemblance to the young Marc Almond.

Other directorial flourishes include the front of house team in character with a dose of authoritarian bossiness, which is forgivable. Bits of text spell out now and then on a screen. The German as sung is good- somewhere in the credits is an excellent dialogue coach. Reviewers, being a pedantic bunch, are ever on the look-out for something to moan about. All that can be found here is a misapplied gender for Nollendorfplatz- being masculine it comes with “der” rather than “die”. If that is the height of critique it is indicator of a big demanding show pulled off with much gusto.

“Mein Lieber Herr/ It was a fine affair/ But now it's over” sings Sally. Not quite over. “Cabaret” continues until June 15th.

Picture credit: Nashville Repertory Theatre

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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