“There are girls in their knickers and boys with no tops groping and being groped… It’s a production that aims to make the audience uncomfortable.” HANNAH MIRSKY recommends a discomforting but “profoundly enjoyable” show.
ADC, 6th -10th November, 7.45pm, £6/12
Dir: Maria Montague
I felt like a voyeur for large portions of this production. There are girls in their knickers and boys with no tops groping and being groped, displaying a lot of crotch and simulating sex acts. It’s a production that aims to make the audience uncomfortable, and it certainly succeeds – English awkwardness when faced with these racy Europeans segues into increasing unease about the political situation being depicted. And somehow all this discomfort is still profoundly enjoyable.
So – Rozzi Nicholson-Lailey as Sally Bowles. Bloody hell. From a perfectly composed and beautifully danced entrance to a final, choked and trembling, rendition of the title song, she flabbergasts. She’s raunchy and humorous and energetic in the first half but in the second, as the plot takes a downward turn, she really shines. Beneath the veneer of airiness, her Sally is transparently falling apart, unable to light a cigarette or deliver witticisms with conviction. Nicholson-Lailey had a challenger for the title of most showstopping performance, however, in the form of Ellie Nunn’s captivating Emcee. She is capable of flirting with the audience, pervily sizing up the cabaret girls, but also, like Nicholson-Lailey’s Sally, conveying the fear and discomfort underlying the glib hedonism of the nightclub. Both of these female leads beautifully negotiate the transition from brazen cabaret to emotion nuance that this show requires.
But it’s not simply the quality of the performances that is impressive (though the entire cast is very skilled). This is a production that is aware of the world outside the theatre and invites the audience to consider it. The cabaret girls, for example, are not the loose-limbed dead-eyed dolls of the 1972 film. They are the pouting, gyrating, under-dressed girls that you’re just as likely to come across in a music video or a Hollywood movie. The decision to have a female Emcee also leads to some resonant moments – a song about society’s condemnation of a relationship between a Jew and a gentile is now sung, provocatively, by a woman to a woman. The production is not doing anything so rash as comparing modern Western society to Nazi Germany, but it is inviting the audience to remember the absolute untruth of Sally’s glib and desperate remark ‘What has politics got to do with us?’.
All of the above is pretty much perfect. And there’s plenty more I haven’t mentioned – genuinely funny jokes and an adorable song about a piece of tropical fruit. This was very nearly a five-star review, but the production was let down by a slight incompatibility between the leading couple. James Ellis’ portrayal of Cliff Bradshaw was a little too understated and naturalistic to match up to Nicholson-Lailey’s Sally. A crucial emotional confrontation seemed unconvincing as a result. A slap was incongruous rather than shocking. There were a couple of other wobbles – flat singing and a microphone left onstage – but these probably come down to first night nerves.
Overall, however, this production is a triumph; deftly marrying self-aware social commentary with disarming emotional rawness. In the words of the titular song – come to the cabaret.