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28 October 2014

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You are in: London > Entertainment > Theatre > Reviews > First night: Cabaret

Anna Maxwell Martin plays Sally Bowles

Anna Maxwell Martin plays Sally Bowles

First night: Cabaret

Our critic Mark Shenton welcomes a dazzling new production of the classic musical to the West End...

Though you may have seen the 1972 film version of this 1966 Broadway musical, best known for Liza Minnelli's star-making turn as cabaret singer Sally Bowles, nothing will prepare you for the raw, overwhelming power of the stage revival that is now at London's Lyric Theatre.

"Instead of the seductive sexiness of the Oscar-winning film, the approach here is far more moodily gritty, and it's even more gripping as a result..."

Mark Shenton

Instead of the seductive sexiness of Bob Fosse's Oscar-winning film, the approach here is far more moodily gritty, and it's even more gripping as a result.

Director Rufus Norris, who previously staged Festen, that amazingly powerful play about a dysfunctional family imploding on this same stage, layers this potent story -  based on Christopher Isherwood's novel about 1930s Berlin - with tantalising atmosphere and real feeling as another world is on the edge of imploding with the rise of Nazism. 

Contrasting the shadowy, sleazy world of the Kit Kat nightclub against the harsh lives being led outside it in a boarding house, it is given a dark, stark and ferocious theatricality.


Norris keeps the competing dramas being played out here buoyant with an alert and expert ease, revolving around an aspiring, closeted gay American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Michael Hayden) who forges a relationship with needy singer Sally (Anna Maxwell Martin).

Cabaret production still

The story explores 30s Berlin and Nazism

She then comes to live with him at the rooming house of Sheila Hancock's Fraulein Schneider, populated also by busy working prostitutes like Harriet Thorpe's Fraulein Kost and the earnest Jewish fruit-seller of Geoffrey Hutchings' Herr Shultz, who falls in love with the landlady.

The cast are much more accomplished actors than singers for the most part, but then this particular cabaret was always meant to be more ragged than glamorous.

And, as fully inhabited with real intelligence by this brilliant ensemble cast, led by Maxwell Martin's rivetingly vulnerable Sally and James Dreyfus' grimly sleazy Emcee, this is a fearless, frank production that magnificently renews a classic musical.

Cabaret is at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue W1. Tickets: £20 - £50. Box office: 0870 890 1107. Booking to 7 April 2007

last updated: 02/05/2008 at 13:54
created: 11/10/2006

Have Your Say

I think this production of Cabaret is one of the very best musicals on the West End at the moment. Don’t be put off by the negative comments on this page about the casting of Julian Clary – in my opinion he shone as the Emcee, his German accent is excellent and he portrayed the different sides to the Emcee's character very well. He CAN sing - my personal favourite is ‘I Don’t Care Much’ as Julian sings it in a very emotional way. The rest of the cast are all very good too, and there isn't a weak song in this musical. The choreography and dancing is excellent, especially in the early scenes in the Kit Kat Club. It's an excellent production and I'd definitely recommend it for other people to see, you'll love it!

Having seen Cabaret last night starring Julian Clary and Amy Nuttal - it clearly is like a pot of Marmite. Either you'll love it or you'll hate it!

I thought after seeing Rosie O'Donnell in Fiddler on the Roof in NYC, that was the worst thing I ever saw - until I saw Julian Clary in Cabaret!!!!! He can't sing, act, nor move!!! What were they thinking?

The point of this amazing show is its darkness and the seedy, sordid Kitkat club. It's not the Hollywood glamour spin that the film put on it! Hence the issues people here have with the singing/acting are in perfect harmony with the seedy nature of a second rate cabaret club in the old Wiemar republic. Julian Clary does a fine job as a chilling Emcee, as do the rest of the cast. You won't come out of the theatre with a dance in your step and a song in your heart, but that's not the point of this show or in fact Mr Isherwood's original books. Go see it, it's wonderful!

I have seen Cabaret with the current cast several times and I must say that I strongly disagree with most comments on here - hard to believe that we're talking about the same West End show really. Maybe people should put their glasses on and remove their earplugs and appreciate the fine singing, dancing and acting of the entire cast who do a most brilliant job!!! Julian Clary in particular does a most fantastic job as the Emcee. Camping it up at the beginning ('Willkommen'), moving on to those funny bits ('Two Ladies') and slowly starting to transform giving the evil side of his character more room with every scene. 'If You Could See Her' is both funny yet grotesquely scary but nothing could prepare you for the evil 'I Don't Care Much' which Julian does bare-faced and bare-voiced with only a piano in the background to enhance the cruel significance of the scene. Gripping right up to the end, which is so chillingly horrendous you could hear a pin drop. A production not to be missed and I for sure will definitely go and see it again 'sooner than you think'.

Julian Clary was shocking. The role of MC is key to the show and he could neither sing, dance nor act. The choice in casting him is therefore really quite odd.

Seen the show now three times with different leads the latest being Julian Clary & Amy Nuttall. A very polished west end show is is very thought provoking. The audiance on all three performances I have seen were shocked into silence as the curtain fell on act two - Very moving.I saw Julian in his first week and he was very nervous by his third week he was really camping things up and was much better. However, I do think James Dryfess gave a more chilling and somewhat better performance. Both Kim Metcalf & now Amy Nuttal as Sally Boles were excellent.

We've just suffered the production with Julian Clary. Liberace in Lederhosen, without the musical talent.Wooden acting, accompanied by assorted willies and boobs for no apparent reason.Give it a miss.....

Very poor entertainment and very disappointing.Extremely weak singing voices of leads, poor use of stage space.5 people sitting near me left at the interval, wish I had also. Cant believe this production got on the West End.Visitors base trips to London specially to see theater. Don't go to this, you will be very disappointed.

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