Theatre Review: Cabaret at the KitKat Club


I'd seen the movie. I'd seen a student production. But nothing could have prepared me for the visceral reality of seeing Cabaret live on stage.

It seems that theatre producers have finally realised that audiences want an immersive experience which simply can't be replicated sat at home with NetFlix on.

The entrance to the theatre is via a door tucked away from the main theatre foyer. Down down down you descend, grabbing a complimentary beer or schnapps - until you enter a seedy little bar. The girls of the club strut around you, a jazz musician plays while a dancer performs their (deliberately) underwhelming gyrations. Is this Laurie Penny's famed "ironic erection"? The bar pulsates with bodies as the female audience members push their way to the front of the show. As you explore further, through multiple bars, the androgynous dancers cavort - mostly treating the gawping tourists with the disdain we so richly deserve.

Cabaret isn't designed to make you feel psychologically comfortable.

As for physical comfort…

The theatre auditorium has been completely revamped. Again, producers have realised that audiences have comfy sofas at home and don't want to pay West End prices for hard seats with no leg room. Seating is spacious and well cushioned. Honestly, this is the first time in my theatre-going life that my long legs haven't been cramped during the performance.

Similarly, no one wants to spend the interval queuing for a solitary lavatory. Instead there are plenty of cubicals - all gender-neutral as befits the show.

All of which, along with the COVID pass checking, goes to make for one of the most pleasant theatre trips I've had in a long time. The entire audience journey has been thought about and made to feel as special as possible. As we begin our slow journey back to normality, audiences will demand a feeling of safety and comfort in order to make it worth going out. But, more than that, they want the entertainment to start from the moment they cross the threshold.

This is mere preamble, of course. What's the show like?

Stunning. Cabaret has an eternal quality. I don't intend to dissect the themes of queer-outsiders battling against the forces of convention. But it is maddening just how relevant it is to 2022.

Amy Lennox is the first Sally Bowls I've seen who is bad at singing! Sally isn't meant to be Liza Minelli belting out the hits. She's an indifferent singer in a crappy club singing for people too drunk to care. The way Lennox manages to get the accent just wrong enough, and the timing just a little bit out of kilter, is stunning. It takes real skill to sing badly this well. And, once she's off the KitKat Club's stage, her vocal prowess shines through.

The whole cast are outstanding. Theatre in the round often means you're staring at the back of the actor's head half the time. But the staging and direction is so inventive that it is impossible to remain out of eye-line for long.

The orchestra is split down both sides of the auditorium - which gives a wonderful sense of stereo to the music. Something which is sorely lacking in most shows.

Even in our precariously high seats, far away from the stage, it felt like an intimate and dangerous performance.

It is hard to straddle the line between glamour and gratuitous - but this manages it well. The performers - whether he, she, or they - ooze sensuality and vulnerability. Similarly, the costumes are provocative without being explicit.

The whole experience - from start to finish - was extraordinary. It wasn't quite immersive theatre (although if you paid for ringside tables, it probably is) but it feels like you're part of the show. You're complicit.

I hope this runs for ages. It is a direct demonstration of the way an old theatre - and an old show - can be repurposed for the modern age.

Verdict

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