London celebrations

Diverse and Inclusive ‘Cabaret’ Opens in London with Eddie Redmayne – WWD

LONDON – The thing few people seem to remember from the 1920s is that they roared – then they spilled blood.

A new London production of “Cabaret”, starring Eddie Redmayne as the spooky emcee, captures this moment when the freedom, exhilaration, and cultural richness of Weimar Berlin horrifically came to a halt when the Nazis came to a standstill. came to power.

As the musical, which opens at the Playhouse Theater on Monday, takes place in the late 1920s, with Germany recovering from one war and rushing to the next, this new production is well on the way. .

The dancers of the Kit Kat club are fluid; actors range from young drama school grads to middle-aged actors, and there are no bowler hats, fishnets or black canes in sight.

Indeed, there is a trash can near the foyer where Tom Scutt, the stage and costume designer, has thrown in many traditional “Cabaret” props, including a bowler hat and the straight-backed Thonet chair that the character Sally Bowles uses for her performances.

Dancers wear their own tattoos and piercings with pride, and these permanent embellishments are just as much a part of costume design as crochet bikini tops, silky tap pants, corsets, garter belts, and dresses. of room devoured. The hair has been sculpted in finger waves and kissing curls, while the nails and lids are dark and gothic.

Sally Bowles, played by Jessie Buckley, is as colorful and showy as a peacock, appearing first in a ruffled white Shirley Temple-style dress; switch to a dramatically draped dressing gown, and later to her signature mint green fur coat. But in the end, she wears a drab brown suit, just like everyone else.

In a joint pre-premiere interview, director Rebecca Frecknall and Scutt, both in their mid-30s, argued that the musical offers many parallels to today’s debate topics. Themes such as censorship, conformity, racism, and state-imposed restrictions on social behavior feature prominently in this production, as does the enduring human drive for freedom and self-expression.

The latter production is based on the play by John Van Druten, which in turn draws inspiration from Christopher Isherwood’s novels about Berlin between the wars. Music is by John Kander, with lyrics by Fred Ebb. The main producers are Ambassador Theater Group Productions and Underbelly.

Frecknall, who is associate director at the Almeida theater in London, said she approached “Cabaret” the same way she does any play, asking: “‘How do you treat it as a new work , unlock it for a contemporary audience, and make what it talks about resonate with the life they lead? ‘ “

She added: “This is an article that examines the decline of a society and how it spills over and affects people. It’s about identity and how humans over the years have ostracized and demonized the alien. We are looking at human behavior under extreme social and political changes and pressures, and it really seems to resonate now. It was therefore a question of making these parallels vibrate in the room.

This room is unlike any other in London’s West End right now: the performance hall has been reconfigured as a circular theater, surrounded by small cocktail tables, each with a working phone and a light that flashes when others guests – or members of the cast – call. Champagne, beer, pretzels, and schnapps are on offer, evoking the nightclub vibe of the room.

The production is even called “Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club”, and guests can reserve tables (or the balcony) and travel back in time to 1920s Berlin.

The main foyer bar is awash in yellow gold as the backdrop to a Gustav Klimt painting, and the walls are covered in swirling graffiti that echoes the work of Marc Chagall. The mural, which features naked bodies, was done by Dominic Myatt, a graduate of Goldsmiths and the Royal Drawing School, who previously collaborated with Vivienne Westwood, Showstudio and Selfridges.

Scutt said that bringing in “a young queer artist to do the graffiti in the gold bar was really very therapeutic.” It healed all kinds of deep-rooted issues I have with traditional Western theater spaces and their height.

His take on the foyer, the three bars (in addition to the gold bar, there is a red and a green one) and the Kit Kat Club as a whole aimed to create a sense of intimacy and informality.

“There was no way, coming out of this pandemic, that we would have allowed, or felt comfortable with, to create a ‘cabaret’ that looked and sounded like other productions that came before,” Scutt said.

Frecknall and Scutt said they also wanted to celebrate individuality and emphasize how quickly it can give way to conformity.

Frecknall said she and Scutt drew heavily on an early line from the play, when one of the characters told Clifford Bradshaw, the young gay – and incredibly serious – American writer played by black actor Omari Douglas: Berlin, relax and be yourself.

For the set and costumes, Frecknall said she and Scutt were largely inspired by images from Berlin cabarets of the 1920s where performers were often costumed or transvestite.

“There was someone who was randomly dressed as a clown, someone in a costume with a sailor’s pom pom and men in robes. There was a real eclecticism, ”she said.

The costumes are inspired by these vintage cabaret images, but also spooky and spooky German Expressionist paintings, the Dance of Death and David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks”. Some of Redmayne’s costumes appear to have left the set of Stephen King’s “It”.

Redmayne is sinister in every scene, whether he’s dressed as a clown; wearing a weirdly small party hat; dance with a gorilla or wave their sharp, mechanical fingernails. He’s especially unsettling at the end of the play when he’s donned in a tailored suit, ready to march alongside the Nazis.

In contrast, there is a richness in the costumes of the cabaret performers: Scutt dressed them like modern dancers, with bandeau tops and lycra shorts to match their skin color, and layered crochet pieces, silky fabrics, garter belts and corsets. .

“Everyone’s in the same thing underneath,” Scutt said, adding that he wanted to tear the costumes and movements of the dancers away from the male gaze and traditional notions of gender and “sexuality”.

Crochet pieces are there for a reason.

“I was thinking, ‘What’s not sexy?’ and I loved the idea of ​​crochet and knitted things. It looked like back then, but more like the ’60s and’ 70s – and like that could be pretty ’90s too, ”Scutt said. “There is also an artisanal side and a childish side” which echoes the movement of the piece from innocence and experience, he added.

Scutt spent time thinking about the fabrics, knowing they had to work for a round theater. “It was about ‘accessing’ people’s bodies, so we didn’t want solids, but more porous surfaces, which is why there is crochet, translucent clothing and devoured velor,” said Scutt.

He wanted each of the six characters in the Kit Kat Club to be recognizable, which is why Texas wears shimmering gold boots; Victor dons green suede shoes and Lulu’s look is a nod to club culture. Scutt said he chose the bodycon crochet tops because they’re all the rage right now.

Scutt also referred to “Fantasia”, Jean Paul Gaultier’s nautical styles, queer club culture, punk and shibari bondage. The long fringes of golden silk on the costumes of the dancers in the song “Money” winked at bondage, “the constriction of poverty” and the whirling dervishes.

In the end, unfortunately, everyone ends up wearing the same suit, shirt, and tie, bending over and walking in a circle led by Redmayne’s MC. The game is over, and the wild and spontaneous “Be yourself, this is Berlin” culture has been erased entirely.

The colorful Bowles dons her dull, baggy suit as she bids farewell to her lover Clifford Bradshaw, who is fed up with fascists and returns home to Pennsylvania.

Scutt said he and Frecknall had experimented, at one point, with suits – but no shirts or ties. “And then there was the day they put on the shirts and ties, and that completed the picture, and I immediately cried and said ‘Yes’.”

Inside and outside the Kit Kat Club, Scutt said he saw the costume as an oppressive power statement: “Someday we’re going to look back, and the costume is going to look like such an odd uniform. that something of a church, “he said.

He would do well to stay away from the tailors of Savile Row, at least until the end of the play, which, judging by the excellent performance, won’t last long. Redmayne and Buckley will perform until March, when new cast will replace them, and no end date is set.