WHEN Rufus Norris’s production of Cabaret first opened in London in 2012, it caused something of a sensation. Not only did it star Pop Idol celebrity Will Young in the key role of the master of ceremonies, famously played by Joel Gray in Bob Fosse’s great 1972 film, but it seized the politics of the story by the throat, offering a final scene in which we see the happy party people who once –in early-1930s Berlin – used to hang out in the Kit Kat Club, now being stripped naked, and herded into the gas chambers.
Cabaret, Playhouse, Edinburgh ****
Kind Stranger, Oran Mor, Glasgow ***
Love and Information, Scottish Youth Theatre, Glasgow ***
There’s therefore no happy singalong finale for audiences at the Playhouse this week, as Norris’s production visits Edinburgh on its UK tour; but there is a superb and gripping piece of musical theatre, given a slightly uneven but still persuasive performance by a cast that includes not only Will Young, but Strictly star Louise Redknapp as cabaret singer Sally Bowles, and a wonderful Susan Penhaligon as the landlady Fraulein Schneider, whose budding late-life romance with the local greengrocer, Herr Schultz – beautifully played by Linal Haft – is cruelly crushed when the local Nazis discover that Herr Schultz is Jewish.
Young turns in a decent, sometimes chilling performance as the Emcee who both satirises Nazism and seems strangely complicit with it, although he sometimes overdoes the simpering, self-conscious understatement; Redknapp rarely delves beneath the surface of Sally’s lines, but gives a storming performance of her big final number, Cabaret, capturing the moment when even those oblivious to politics could no longer ignore the Nazis. And with a tremendous 18-strong ensemble driving the show through some of the greatest songs in the musical playbook, this Cabaret delivers a night to remember; although – in these times – an unavoidably sombre one.
“There was a city called Berlin, in a country called Germany. It was the end of the world; I was dancing with Sally Bowles, and we were both fast asleep.” So runs the most famous quote from Cabaret; and a flight from horror into unconsciousness also features strongly in Matthew McVarish’s new show for A Play, A Pie And A Pint, given a powerful solo performance at Oran Mor this week by River City star Tom Urie.
Set in a hospital room in Glasgow where a figure lies motionless in bed, McVarish’s 55-minute play features a series of five or six short monologues by a cheerful-looking chap who apparently volunteers as a hospital visitor, sitting by the beds of coma-bound patients reading snippets from the world’s great books of wisdom, from the Koran and the Bible to his personal favourite, Dickens’s great redemptive story A Christmas Carol.
Appearances can be deceptive, though; and towards the end, the play wrenches itself through a couple of hugely emotional plot-twists that make sustained character-building difficult, and seem to leave Maggie Kinloch’s production slightly out of balance; although not before Tom Urie has demonstrated his full understanding of the issues the play explores, not only about the pain and the joy of life lived as a gay man in Glasgow, but about grief and loss, and how all of us can become both carers and the ones in need of care, as life takes its toll.
There’s also plenty of pain, joy, humour and loss entwined in Cary Churchill’s remarkable 2012 text Love And Information, a series of 50 short playlets about the way we live now – in a kind of anxious comfort, perched on the edge of horrors we hardly dare contemplate. Now, the play is given a beautiful, sharp and funny touring production by Jonathan Lloyd of Solar Bear, Scotland’s company working with deaf or partly deaf performers, and by the remarkable group of students studying for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s BA in Performance In British Sign Language And English, the first-ever degree course of its kind in Scotland.
And if this fierce two-hour avalanche of tiny, telling scenes loses some momentum towards the end, there’s still a fantastic display of energy and talent on view from the ten-strong company, effortlessly switching between BSL and English, gesture, silence and surtitles, in a style that perfectly matches Churchill’s vision of an information-driven world hurtling through rapid change – and sometimes, definitely for the better.
Cabaret and Kind Stranger, runs ended. Love And Information is at Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock, 20 November; Eden Court, Inverness 22 November and Woodend Barn, Banchory, 23 November.