Updated: Dec 2, 2022
The West End has said a big Willkommen to a classic and iconic show. Cabaret may have been frequently revived in the West End, on Broadway and had several UK tours since its debut in 1966 but never before has there been a version quite like this one.
As part of a huge transformation, the Playhouse theatre in the West End has been turned into the Kit Kat Club - an intimate in the round setting which is designed to replicate the club in the show where the action takes place. It all starts when you first enter the building - FOH staff members welcome you to the Kit Kat club and invite you for a free drink. Dark and seedy surroundings greet your every turn which are filled with members of the Prologue cast, brushing past you and even doing a group dance number at one point in the evening. This is designed to create an immersive atmosphere which is more than your average evening at the theatre - and it works!
Pure escapism, I asked a FOH member about the transformation of the stage to the reply "What do you mean? The Kit Kat club has always been here". For all intents and purposes you are in 1930s Berlin the moment you enter the building. It is also incredibly secretive with a sticker placed over your phone camera when you enter - after all, these weren't around back then!
When you take to your seats, you are immediately struck by how intimate it all feels. A relatively tiny stage (I should know. I was plucked out of my seat by a cast member to dance around the stage and kept worrying I was going to fall off of it) is surrounded by table seats all the way around it, with the upper circles giving a 360 degree view to all the action performed in the round. Though a word of advice - if you are in the table seats, be prepared for cast members to talk to you and even touch you (There are rigorous Covid testing measures in place for everybody who attends).
It may be a small and simple stage but that is all this production needs. Directed by Rebecca Frecknall, A full use of the space around the club means you can find your leading star perched on the edge by the orchestra in the circle, or even appearing through the most unlikely of places (Look out for a genius bit of staging involving a suitcase). The less is more approach works incredibly well and allows you to focus on the acting, which really is on another level.
It's not every day you get to see an Oscar winner in the West End. Eddie Redmayne makes it clear why he is the proud recipient of that award with his astonishing performance as The Emcee. His physicality is amazing to witness as he effortlessly contorts his body and his features as the tone of the show changes. Eddie skulks around the stage and audience as a constantly dominating presence - sometimes fun, sometimes sinister but always captivating. He really delivers a performance that proves why is at the top of his game.
A secondary love story between Liza Sadovy and Elliot Levey as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz in some instances actually surpasses the main love story that is acted out on the stage. The pair display incredible chemistry and melt all of the audiences hearts with their beautiful yet impossible romance. Sadovy in particular is outstanding, delivering one of the highlights of the evening with 'What Would You Do'?
Omari Douglas, best known for his role in It's A Sin, is fantastic as Clifford Bradshaw while Stewart Clarke thrills as the complicated Ernst Ludwig. A supporting cast is full of exceptional talent including Anna-Jane Casey, Daniel Perry and Christopher Tendai who are all sensational.
Let's talk about Sally Bowles. As iconic a role as it gets, here it is played by Jessie Buckley who began her career coming in second place on TV show 'I'd Do Anything' before landing some amazing roles in TV and film. Seeing her on the stage is an experience in itself. It really didn't feel as if she was playing a character, rather that we were witnessing Sally Bowles on that stage. A testament to the art of characterisation and a true masterclass in acting, she performed in a way I had never seen before. Effortless in her performance, she holds back in big numbers such as 'Maybe This Time' in a bold move that ultimately pays off. Yes, she can sing like the best of them but she doesn't need to show it. At times, she actually shouts her way through songs though still tunefully, such is the calibre of her voice. Honestly, in all my years of theatre going I have never seen a performance like this. Her rousing rendition of the title number 'Cabaret' is THE single best three minutes I have ever experienced in a theatre. Buckley gives her whole body to that number and blew the roof off the Kit Kat club. I have no doubt she will bag herself an Olivier award nomination for this role. She may have come second on 'I'd Do Anything' but maybe this time, she'll win. In fact, I'd put money on it.
The already legendary songs in Cabaret from Kander and Ebb songs have never been performed better. Buckley's 'Don't Tell Mama' and 'Mein Herr' are both spellbinding and I have already mentioned how out of this world 'Cabaret' was. Eddie gets some fantastic moments with opening number 'Willkommen', the brilliant 'Money' and the surprising 'If You Could See Her'. The culmination of the long first act with slow build up ensemble number 'Tomorrow (Reprise)' is the most chilling thing I have witnessed on the stage while Sadovy and Levey's 'It Couldn't Please Me More' is the cutest thing you'll witness on a stage though they do run the risk of being upstaged by a pineapple. Choreography from Julia Cheng ensures all numbers are delivered with such high quality, they match that of the huge talent performing them.
Cabaret is a show with depth and every ounce of it is explored in this production. Sudden change in tones and the looming threat of the Nazi make an uncomfortable yet essential watch. The way costumes and makeup reflect the changing world outside is a genius touch, with Eddies increasingly outlandish makeup suddenly changing to a dull suit a deliberately jarring move.
I'll be honest - last time (and before this, the only time) I saw Cabaret on stage, I wasn't thrilled. I came out of there actually disliking the show. Not having anything to compare it to, I wasn't sure if it was the production of the show itself. This version proved once and for all - it wasn't the show. This experience was as contrasting as it comes. I've had two trips to the Kit Kat Club so far and both times I was so profoundly moved and overwhelmed by what I was witnessing on stage, it really is a beautiful example of how theatre can make you feel.
The show might open with The Emcee saying "Life is disappointing, In here, life is beautiful" - that opening line sums up this production perfectly. The only disappointment you will find at the Kit Kat Club is at the end of the performance when you face the realisation it is all over. This version of Cabaret is quite possibly the greatest piece of theatre I have ever watched. Special, memorable and flawless, Cabaret is THE greatest show of the year bar none. Today belongs to them.
Cabaret plays the Kit Kat Club with Eddie Redmeyne and Jessie Buckley appearing until March 19th 2022. Casting for dates past that is to be announced.
Tickets from https://kitkat.club/cabaret-london/