JOYCE MCMILLAN on CABARET at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 22.10.13.
4 stars ****
WITH A muffled roll of drums, and a dark flash of glamour, Rufus Norris’s acclaimed 2006 production of Cabaret rolls into town right on cue, just six days after Norris was appointed as the next director of the National Theatre in London. And if this terrific production of one of the greatest of all musicals is any guide, then the National is in for an exciting time, over the next decade.
It’s not that Norris’s production does anything revolutionary with Kander and Ebb’s great 1966 musical, for most of its length. With Will Young as a genial and naughty Emcee, presiding over the human flotsam and jetsam of the KitKat Club in 1931 Berlin, the story and songs roll out in familiar style on Katrina Lindsay’s superb set of fast-moving screens and ladders, with Siobhan Dillon as a gorgeously intelligent and glamorous Sally Bowles.
There’s a hint of steel, though, in the prominence the production gives to the doomed love story of the elderly landlady Fraulein Schneider and her Jewish admirer Herr Schultz , beautifully played by Lyn Paul and Linal Haft; and from there on – after Lyn Paul’s superb performance of Schneider’s great song What Would You Do? – the production darkens steadily, to as bleak and unrelenting an ending as this pre-holocaust story will bear. There are small misjudgments here and there in the production, and a sllght lack of vocal volume and dynamism. Yet there’s also a profound and chilling insight into how the gender-bending style-victims who hang around the KitKat Club can develop a taste for Nazi chic overnight, when that becomes the only game in town; in a show that finally has the audience on its feet, applauding a story that leads us straight to the heart of the great crisis of the 20th century, and leaves us there, pondering just what we would have done, in Berlin 80 years ago.