Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome, Ey Up and How Do. Cabaret has returned to Leeds in a different production and a new (almost) cast.
I have to admit to not having the vaguest idea as to who the two stars of this show are. John Partridge who plays Emcee has, according to the programme, been a regular in EastEnders and was also the winner of Celebrity MasterChef so seems attracted by programmes with an uppercase letter in the middle of a word. Kara Lily Hayworth, Sally Bowles, has an illustrious theatre and film career as well as performing with her band Zyrah Rose.
The one cast member I did recognise was Anita Harris who was on just about every music show on tv in the Sixties. She was always known as being a really nice person and therefore well suited to the role of the benevolent Fraulein Schneider who rents out rooms in her house for less than the market value to those in need, and also Fraulein Kost, Basienka Blake, who specialises in the ‘entertaining’ of sailors. Her newest tenant is Cliff Bradshaw, played by Charles Haggerty who filled the same role in the 2017 touring production which I saw when it visited Leeds.
The other two principal characters are Herr Schultz, the Jewish greengrocer played by James Patterson, and Nick Tizzard as Ernst Ludwig, the local wheeler dealer.
The story tells of two simultaneous love affairs; one between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, with the other concerning Sally Bowles and Cliff Bradshaw. The place is Berlin and the time is the beginning of 1931. The rise of the Nazi Party plays a huge part in both of these liaisons as well as Cliff Bradshaw’s illicit job smuggling mysterious suitcases from Paris to Berlin for Ernst Ludwig.
Cliff Bradshaw first arrives in Berlin on New Year’s Eve 1930 and meets Ernst Ludwig at the customs post. He is an American writer who has been travelling round Europe to get inspiration for his new book. Ludwig gives him a card to pass on to Fraulein Schneider who he says will give Bradshaw a cheap room in her house. He also insists that Bradshaw goes with him to celebrate the New Year at the Kit Kat Club, a seedy dive with a questionable clientele and it is there where he meets Sally Bowles. She turns up at his room the following day and moves in with him as her current ‘boyfriend’ has thrown her out. She has also got the sack from the club. Meanwhile Ludwig has proposed to Fraulein Schneider who has accepted. So far, so good.
With his novel making no progress Bradshaw embarks on his nefarious activity for Ludwig, who, it transpires, is a major player in the setting up of the Nazi Party so Bradshaw withdraws his labour, only to be beaten up by Ludwig’s henchmen. As Herr Schultz is Jewish, Fraulein Schneider is given a quiet word at their engagement party indicating that it might not be a great idea to marry a Jew. She calls the wedding off and Schultz moves away after his shop is vandalised and daubed with anti-semitic slogans.
The relationship between Bradshaw and Bowles is more involved. Bradshaw is having an affair with one of the male dancers at the Kit Kat Club, whom he previously met in London whilst on his European tour, but this doesn’t seem to faze Bowles who has found out she is pregnant, but cannot narrow down the candidates for the father.
As you will gather, things do not end well.
I hate to refer to the previous production as a yardstick as the chances are that you will not have seen it, but I will! I found this one to be a lot truer to the book and play upon which the musical is based as it is much darker, and a lot more explicit, so if your sensibilities are offended by the sight of male genitalia or female breasts then you might wish to close your eyes on a couple of occasions. Alternatively, you may prefer to take your opera glasses!
The Director, Rufus Norris, and his team have done a great job in staging the piece especially in making it gritty and dark rather than frothy. The first half ends with a song called Tomorrow Belongs To Me which has to provide one of the most brutal and shocking endings in theatrical history. You will certainly need your interval G&T!
The whole show is narrated and held together by Emcee who introduces proceedings and plays a couple of smaller parts as well. John Partridge was absolutely superb in this role. He was camp as Christmas in the first half and involved the audience in the action. It was bordering on pantomime, the way in which he kept repeating a line until the audience cheered and doing the same whilst conducting the orchestra. Everyone was on his side indulging him by laughing extra loud in all the right places. After the interval, however, his character, who was shown to be a fervent Nazi himself, changed into a more sinister figure bordering on the grotesque. It was incredible how the audience became so quickly alienated at this point and you could hear a pin drop in pauses which would have been filled with raucous laughter before the break. The make-up helped by being over-applied and not quite perfect, allowing the sinister side to be revealed. Towards the end of the show the costume and make-up was discarded completely – literally right at the end – when he sang I Don’t Care Much. Very moving.
There was a brilliantly symbolic moment when, at the end, the letters K A B A R E T which were freestanding on the stage, were pushed over slowly one by one by Ludwig who was wearing his swastika armband signifying that this was a way of life which was about to be destroyed by the new regime. A ray of hope was added by Emcee who clung to the letter A in order to prevent the complete destruction.
My only gripe about the production was the portrayal of Sally Bowles. Although the character was based on a young woman from a family of some wealth, she was not the glamorous star which this musical portrays. Christopher Isherwood who wrote Goodbye To Berlin, on which a play and then the musical were based, said that the thing which struck him was the emerald green nail varnish she would wear, a trait which is mentioned in the show. He said that it was unfortunately chosen as it attracted attention to her hands ‘which were much stained by cigarette smoking and dirty as a little girl’s.’ Not a great look. The pretence of her being a kind of sympathy figure does not sit well with me either as she had a new lover on a weekly basis, as referred to in the show, and, seemingly a season ticket for the doctor who performed abortions.
That aside, the singing, dancing and acting were all superb and it was good to witness that Anita Harris was still in such good voice.
I would happily recommend that you try to get to see this production as it is a cut above the rest and far better than the film which took more liberties with the original material than had been taken with Miss Bowles herself. Besides, any chance to go to the Grand is worth taking.
Auf Wiedersehen, Au Revoir, Goodbye, Tarrah and Sithee.
Cabaret continues at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 7th March. For details and booking please go to
Feature photograph is of John Partridge as Emcee
All photographs by The Other Richard