There was a huge welcome for us theatregoers on Tuesday night when Cabaret came to town. The word WILKOMMEN lit up the full stage, as we took our seats at the Hull New Theatre.
The German word for welcome is apt, as all the action takes place in Berlin.
It’s New Year’s Eve, 1930, and American, Cliff Bradshaw (Charles Hagerty), arrives in Berlin with the intention of writing a novel.
While at Border Control having his passport checked, he makes the acquaintance of German, Ernst Ludwig (Nick Tizzard). Due to a misplaced act of loyalty, the naïve, young American earns Ludwig’s respect.
As a thank you, the German invites him to celebrate at the infamous Kit Kat Club and also gives him the address of somewhere to stay.
That somewhere belongs to a Fraulein Schneider (Anita Harris), a respectable lady (but the same can’t be said of her tenants).
Cliff accepts a room there, settling in with his trusty typewriter and one suitcase.
We’d already been introduced to the Kit Kat Club’s Emcee (John Partridge) in all his decadence, peering through the O of the aforementioned huge sign. I loved him from the first word he uttered.
So it was a joy to hear him and the Club’s “girls and boys” singing Wilkommen, getting us all in the party mood.
As 1931 arrives, Cliff is having a ball, especially when the club’s star turn, Sally Bowles (Kara Lily Hayworth), from England, pays him attention.
Love is also in the air for Fraulein Schneider in the form of the kindly Herr Schultz (James Paterson) and, after wooing her with, of all things, a fresh pineapple, she eventually agrees to marry him.
Love is definitely not in the air for singer Sally, however, as during her performance at the club, the Emcee informs her this will be her final night performing there.
In a panic, she wheedles her way into staying with Cliff in his tiny room.
So far, so good. We were all having a rollicking good time. It was hard not to, with amazing choreography, raising-the-rafters singing and cheeky naughtiness at every turn.
Some of the scenes took my breath away. Two of the more memorable ones stand out – a comical bed scene that started off with just one occupant, the Emcee, but which ended with at least eight people, plus a giraffe.
And an amazing, but not so comical, live puppet scene showing the dreaded Nazi swastika.
This hated symbol certainly had a huge effect on the audience when it first appeared, on an armband worn by Ernst Ludwig at the pre-wedding celebration of Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz.
There was a definite, and immediate, change in the theatre’s atmosphere – and it never went away.
The fun had stopped and we didn’t have to be historians to realise what was going to happen next.
When Herr Ludwig finds out Herr Schulz is Jewish, he warns the bride-to-be against the marriage. His words unsettle the worried woman and the next day she visits Herr Schulz to break the news that she can’t marry him.
Here came another shock for us, the first signs of the yellow star that the Jewish people were made to wear during those terrible times. This was emblazoned across Herr Schultz’s fruit shop window, next to all the ones that had been broken overnight.
The only person who seems to understand the seriousness of events is Cliff, who makes plans to go back to America – taking a pregnant Sally with him. But is the baby his?
Suddenly all the glitz and glamour disappears from this production, as we’re faced with the full horror of Nazi Germany.
I won’t reveal the final scene, but I could have cried – with anger and sadness. And when the curtain came down, you could have heard a pin drop in the packed theatre. No one applauded, until the curtain came up and there were the performers in all their glory. Then we let rip.
Everyone on stage that night did their utmost to thoroughly entertain us. The six “stars” – John Partridge as Emcee, Kara Lily Hayworth as Sally Bowles, Anita Harris as Fraulein Schneider, Charles Hagerty as Cliff Bradshaw, James Paterson as Herr Schultz and Nick Tizzard as Ernst Ludwig – were amazing in their very different roles.
Loud, clear and tuneful singing voices did justice to songs such as Wilkommen, Mein Herr, If You Could See Her, The Money Song and Maybe This Time – all aided and abetted by the musical talents of on-stage musicians.
But the character who had the biggest effect on me was the Emcee. John Partridge’s portrayal of the over-the-top, anything-goes, debauched showman was simply mesmerising. And his heartbreaking final scene is one I won’t forget in a hurry.
Dates: Running until Saturday, November 2nd, 2019; 7.30pm nightly with 2.30pm matinees on Wednesday, October 30th; Thursday, October 31st and Saturday, November 2nd. Tickets from £15. Call (01482) 300306; visit www.hulltheatres.co.uk
Reviewer: Jackie Foottit
Reviewed: 29th October 2019
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★