Theatre review by Henry Ascoli
‘Cabaret’ by Performance Preparation Academy (PPA), Bellerby Studio Theatre, Guildford
The seductive world of the Berlin nightclub meets Nazi violence and oppression in this iconic musical, a Broadway hit as beguiling for the modern audience as when first performed half a century ago.
A world in the midst of an economic slump, religious minorities victimised and extreme political parties reigning supreme – the show’s principal themes show many parallels with the present day, a fact not lost on the packed audience at PPA’s Bellerby Studio Theatre in Guildford.
Set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, Cabaret focuses on the seedy Kit Kat Klub, and revolves around the 19-year-old English cabaret performer Sally Bowles and her relationship with the young American writer Cliff Bradshaw.
This intimate and immersive production had all the key ingredients of the original, yet the finer details were lent a fresh twist by a confident and accomplished cast, their individual talents each contributing to the collective energy of the performance.
Andrew Patrick Walker proved an inspired choice for the role of the Emcee, capturing every aspect of this dark and disturbing character intrinsically linked with Nazi oppression. He also made the very most of his musical numbers, from the flamboyant ‘Two Ladies’ to the vivid ‘Money’, when the studio was briefly immersed in darkness save for luminous notes.
Melissa Coleman lent an air of elegance and British class to the character of sleazy nightclub singer Sally Bowles in a whole-hearted, if somewhat elaborate, performance, joining the Kit Kat Girls for the vivacious ‘Don’t Tell Mama’ before changing tempo for a fine duet with Cliff in ‘Perfectly Marvellous’.
Indeed, James Hudson showed great stage presence in an assured performance as Cliff, an American writer travelling through Berlin who finds himself torn between his affections for Sally and deep-rooted morals, as the iron fist of Nazi rule tightens its grip.
Lauren Chinery and Dan Stark proved a strong duo as Fräulein Schneider, the lonely older woman who runs the boarding house in which Cliff and Sally reside, and Herr Schultz - the elderly Jewish fruit shop owner who inevitably becomes the principal focus of the Nazi oppression during the latter stages. Both succeeded in showing the changing attitudes of their ageing characters, their physical frailty in stark contrast to their mental fortitude in the face of adversity.
Many of the play’s lighter moments belonged to Laura Banks, in the role of Fräulein Cost, whose contribution to the war effort is to satisfy the needs of countless sailors behind closed doors!
The traverse-style theatre heightened the sense of intimacy throughout, emphasising Lewis Butler’s superb choreography – the Kit Kat Girls scattered amongst the aisles, dancing in the faces of the front row. This style of staging also proved effective in highlighting the show’s darker themes - the chilling finale scene, revealing the terrors of the concentration camp, lingering in the mind.
Together, director Richard Mulholland and musical director Tom Turner succeeded in striking the balance between staying true to the original and bringing fresh ideas into play, lending this show its own character and strong production values.
Bursting with energy and showing great attention to detail, this was a fine example of the consistent quality of PPA productions.
‘I Am A Camera’, the play on which ‘Cabaret’ is based, will be presented by PPA at the Bellerby Studio Theatre from Thursday 26th to Saturday 28th November.
Performance Preparation Academy, 01483 459080, ppacademy.co.uk , @PPAcademyUK