Eine Nacht Im Kabarett: Learning from history

“1933 WAS a massive year of transition in Germany, as soon as Hitler became chancellor,” explains Susanna Mulvihill, unable to do anything but understate the truth of what she’s saying.

A cabaret in Germany in 1925, before the rise of the Nazi party and its crackdown on the arts. Picture: Getty
A cabaret in Germany in 1925, before the rise of the Nazi party and its crackdown on the arts. Picture: Getty

“Overnight, high-ranking academics were being removed from their post. Cabaret had previously gone uncensored, but now it was being censored or shut down. Art was being censored. This was the last gasp of what was acceptable, and our aim is to show there are disturbing parallels creeping into the present day.”

As Mulvihill explains, her response to this realisation is to create an immersive piece of theatre which will see the audience at once watch a recreation of the German cabaret scene of the time in the fictional club Anke’s, but also be a party to the conversations and events which go on around that performance as it rushes towards inevitable doom.

Mulvihill, a cabaret singer and performer herself, has teamed up here with young and rapidly emerging Edinburgh theatre company Tightlaced, with new music from Fiona Thom and Bev Wright.

The themes and scenario sound similar to those of the film and stage versions of Cabaret, and Mulvihill originally toyed with the idea of putting on a revival of Cabaret, but she believes the immersive format will be most useful in teasing out the contemporary references she’s trying to make.

“In this play there’s a speech by a Nazi captain that’s very heavily influenced by a speech Goebbels gave in June of 1933,” she says. “In it, he talks about ‘hard-working people’, which was a Tory party slogan at their last conference. There are parallels all over Europe, from the rise of the Golden Dawn movement in Greece to the very anti-European sentiments of Ukip closer to home.”

It’s not polemic though, she insists, rather a study of history with the benefit of the audience’s own hindsight, and a question as to whether we’ve learned anything as a society from our past mistrust of the outsider.

“The attitudes we hear now aren’t entirely new,” she says, and then laughs.

“I’m not by any means trying to say Nigel Farage is Adolf Hitler, certainly not. But we’re just trying to create parallels, and people can take from these what they choose.

“I don’t think we’re at the stage where stark warnings are needed, but I do think people need to stop and think and take a step back.”

• 1933: Eine Nacht Im Kabarett is at Summerhall, Edinburgh from tomorrow until 2 February. See www.summerhall.co.uk for details.