It is no exaggeration to say that Cabaret; the first ever collaboration between Theatre Group, LUDans and the Music Society, is the largest (and most expensive!) production ever staged by Lancaster University Students. Congratulations are in order for achieving a production nearer to professional standards than any of the many, many student plays I have reviewed in my three years here, as well as for the frankly excellent performances.
Cabaret is, politically and thematically, many cuts above what you’d expect from your bog-standard sixties glitz and kitsch. Set in Berlin in the early 1930s, Cabaret tells the story of would-be novelist Clifford Bradshaw’s visit to Berlin, where he sees Nazism ascend from the fruitcake fringes and begin to establish itself as a serious political future for Germany. Specifically, its threat looms over the happiness of Bradshaw’s landlady, Fraulein Schneider, whose hopes of marrying elderly Jewish fruit-seller Herr Schultz are dashed; for obvious reasons. The hallmark giddy, over-sexualised costumes and dance routines are present and correct – in this case, they are confined to the debauched underground of the Kit Kat Club, embodied by its cross-dressed Master of Ceremonies and his gaggle of showgirls and intended as a breeding ground for decadence and oppression that became political as well as sexual.
It was therefore heartening to see that none of the depth was lost on the direction of Matthew Bosley, and certainly not on George Bach’s usual masterful job on the staging, which imbued the show with the shadows and dilapidation to match the growing intimidation and insecurities of 1930s Berlin.
Theatre Group veteran Robbie Love was breathing sleaze as the Emcee of the Kit Kat Club – grinding is his favoured dance move, the crotch is his weapon of choice, and the rest of it. But the excessive hedonism of Love’s hilarious performance seeped a lot of the nastiness vital to the role, which is essentially there to mock the love and money worries of the central cast. One such victim is Clifford Bradshaw, played with a devastating, almost nerdish vulnerability by Alex Varey, rather than as the clean cut, All-American ‘hero’ of the piece. His chemistry with with English cabaret dancer Sally Bowles, played by Charlotte Blatt, bears none of the confidence in a happy ending that you’d expect. Blatt’s performance was utterly incredible not just for her substantial vocal prowess, but also for the way in which she successfully gave us a conflicted and frightened female lead, whose casual, almost selfish indifference to her political surroundings were seen to utterly break down by the end of a a strained, tearful reprise of ‘Cabaret’.
An equally heartbreaking chemistry came from the sub-plot involving the romance between Fraulein Schneider (Hannah Mook) and Herr Schultz (Andy Ainscough). Hannah Mook was excellent at demanding sympathy for an aged, weary and defiant old lady, and the transition between various breaking points was a marvel. Her utterly cute, old-romance dynamic with Ainscough lent heaps of heartbreak to the end of the first act, when Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor, unknowingly has a timer descend upon his life as his cheerful Yiddish number is surveyed with anger by Ernst Ludwig, a Nazi officer played with dead eyed, motionless sadism by the ever terrifying Laurence Beagley.
Cabaret is a production that could so easily fall victim to misinterpretation and dumbing down in the wrong hands, but this collaborative effort was not only an opportunity to showcase the acting, dancing and musical talents of Lancaster students, but a lovingly handled process that will hopefully set a precedent for the future. More of the same, please.