Review: Cabaret- Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

There is an odd moment in Cabaret when the audience is uncertain if it should applaud a song or not. It’s no reflection on the cast or the production but rather a deliberate move by the composers to unsettle their audience.

Indeed, in Suffolk Young People’s Theatre production of Kander and Ebb’s look at the rise of the Nazis in 1930s Berlin, Tomorrow Belongs To Me is performed with haunting beauty. The song, which must be a contender for the most chilling number in musical theatre, sums up perfectly the counterpoint of this dark yet human musical. Starting off as a melodic folk anthem, extolling the joys of Germanic rural life, the song slides into horror as the audience slowly realise they are in fact listening to a Nazi recruitment anthem. As the harmonies rise so do the Nazi salutes and a shiver inevitably runs down the spine.

It’s a tribute to this company that no attempt is made to lighten the piece, anti-Semitism, abortion and the rise of Hitler are all tackled head on in a remarkably mature production from such a young cast.

Arriving in 1930s Berlin, struggling writer Cliff Bradshaw is swept up into the exotic world of the city’s nightlife and, in particular, the Kit Kat Klub, falling under the seductive charms of leading lady Sally Bowles.

Sally is a woman on the edge, battling drink and inner demons, her outward bravado concealing a frail interior. As the political situation in Germany becomes darker so does Cliff and Sally’s mismatched relationship, ultimately leaving both to come to terms with the consequences of their time in Berlin.

Those familiar with the iconic film adaptation will find the stage version a much grittier proposition, more accurately reflecting the shabby, run down nature of the clubs of the period.

In the film version Liza Minnelli’s Sally Bowles took centre stage and there is more than a passing resemblance to Minnelli in Katherine Engall’s rendition here. It’s by no means a mimic performance, however. Engall instils her Sally with an edginess of a woman on the constant battle to avoid a total breakdown, a battle she finally loses in an emotional finale.

As Clifford, Tom Menarry creates a believable innocent abroad, swept into the whirlwind of German politics and love while Leanne Rumsey’s Fraulein Schneider delivers an impressively powerful vocal performance that conveys perfectly the emotions of a woman torn between future happiness and politician conformity.

Overseeing the rapidly collapsing world is a show stealing performance from Matthew Turner as the Emcee. Delivering a performance with spot on comic timing, inflection, dance and vocal skill, young Mr Turner’s Emcee ranks up their with the very best professional performances seen in the role over the years. It is always a temptation to turn the role into the grotesque but here Turner creates just the right level of the clown versus the sinister.

One of the joys of watching youth theatre is to celebrate the wealth of talent our communities hold. Judging by this showing, the future of musical theatre is in very safe hands and there are many names to watch out for.

Forget the darker undertones of the lyrics for a moment, tomorrow certainly does belong to them.

Review originally written for The Public Reviews

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