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Stick to Your Knitting


It hasn’t officially opened, so I suppose it would not be kosher to review last night’s production of Cabaret at the West End’s lovely Lyric theatre.

Suffice to say, it is every bit as compelling and original as its poster design. If it doesn’t get any better before the official 10th October* opening, there will be every reason to knit, read, and sweep floors this fall.

Spoilers and impressions after the jump.

* Hmmmm. Why did I have it in my mind that it was opening the 2nd of October? Have they delayed a week?

Okay, then you’re still with me. Good.

It was just so flat. If you're going to restage something that's been fairly recently done, then you should darn well do it right. And you should have a new, or at least inspired take on it. As much as I like gratuitously naked boys, especially the taut bubble-ishous buttocks of dancers/gymnasts, it's not inspired theatre.

So what went wrong? It’s a solid show. They’re all talented, strong actors. Could it be direction? Or could it be that they’re all just too busy trying to hit their mark, find the proper ladder rung to hang on, or get in (or out?) of a costume, that their performances have been put on the back burner. Can they pull it together in less than 2 weeks?

I think the director, Rufus Norris, got the play down, but missed the boat on staging/integratoing the songs. The choreography was rubbish. Junior high school writhing with an extra dose of fake spankings. The Kit Kat Club dancers looked like something we’ve already seen at any number of Madonna and Kylie shows … except in black instead of Gucci or D&G. Oh, and there's an oh-so-edgy gimp mask. But indeed, they’ve got hot bodies. And at least one nice penis.

James Dreyfus hasn't found an engaging emcee yet. Maybe before it opens (remember Bernadette and Mama Rose) he’ll come through. From the get-go (within the lens of a camera … geddit? … I Am a Camera), he looked stiff and uncomfortable. It's like he's playing too hard against his camp type and trying to be menacing. But he's not really dark or scary ... just an overly-medicated Dr. Frank N Furter.

Actually, the entire show has a Rocky Horror feel to it. If they’d only put Herr Schultz in a wheelchair …

"If You Could See Her" is a complete pig’s muddle. I guess they were trying to find a different take from Alan Cumming dancing with a gorilla. They went for a cheap vaudeville trick that’s been done a million times, or at least twice in Victor Victoria and La Cage. It’s totally ridiculous that it couldn’t be staged without the cheap, clumsy substitution of a stunt dancer. Shameful that the artistic team couldn’t find a better way to use Dreyfus’ talents.

Anna Maxwell Martin does the best she can with Sally. She’s charming and bubbly and neurotic and very well acted. She’s a little wobbly as a singer (but not as bad as my colleagues thought) … but then again, if Sally was really a talented singer, would she be at the Kit Kat?

I really liked her.

It’s just that she gets nothing to do in the numbers. Except in her second first appearance (the first first is flying by on a rolling ladder, which is a waste of time, since the emcee re-introduces her 5 minutes later). She’s dressed as a Maddona-esque, oversized cross-wielding nun to sing “Don’t Tell Mama.” She strikes a crucifixion pose more than once in the number. Are they really trying to make a cultural nod to Sally as Madge? It just doesn’t work. And then with all the aforementioned Madonna/Kylie dancing boys … ugh.

The whole thing needs to be stepped up several notches. Look at Sally's "Cabaret." She she starts the song way too happy (and not the coked-up* happy that would have been logical from the previous scen), with no sense of irony. If she'd started the song at the emotional place she'd found half-way through, then played it against all the "life's not a cabaret, Cliff's leaving me, the Nazis are coming, and I'm getting an abortion right after this number" angst ... well maybe it might have had an impact..

They gave her *nothing* to do with "Maybe This Time". It can be either devastating or an anthem, and he had her sit on a bed and sing a nice community theater safe version. Flat as a chorus boy's stomach.

The Fraulein Schneider / Herr Schultz subplot is best summed up in Sheila Hancock’s lackadaisical (with equally tired German accent) “So What.”

“But she’s an institution,” my local pals informed be. So what? I saw Blair Brown play the same role and felt her angst, brief happiness, and ultimate despair. Last night … notsomuch.

The stage combat was inexcusable. Cliff punching Ernst was completely telegraphed and fake. Those two need to stand in a room for 2 hours with a fight choreographer and get that sorted out. But then again, if he’s gonna throw such a pansy punch, it makes sense that the ensuing “Nazi fight ballet” has a Hitler youth doing cartwheels in between kidney punches. Nazis doing cartwheels? Oh, he’s a swastika. I get it.

One thing i can't figure out ... what's with the ladders? They make no sense, unless Sally needs to climb out of the Kit Kat Club. Stupid design ploy that allowed for a couple more crucifixion poses.

And then there’s the ending of Act One and the naked asses hanging off ladders, all facing the fiery red backdrop promised by “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” And the very in-your-face slamming of scenery (because nobody’s really chewed it yet) finale, which leads to more naked dancers heading to the inevitable

All in all, it wasn't the worst thing I've ever seen (Hello Steel Pier) and it had more merit than the recent Mack and Mabel. It's just But like I said, it doesn't open till 10 Oct, so maybe they can find their pace.

In the meantime, go see The Last Five Years. It's much more compelling (and much better sung).

* What’s up with British shows lately, having an actress snort coke on stage for dramatic, edgy effect and then not play coked out? Mabel did the exact same thing towards the end of Mack and Mabel.