The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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‘Life is a Cabaret oh chum…’

Marie Benoît Sunday, 26 May 2024, 09:20 Last update: about 24 days ago

I watched Cabaret at the Lyric Theatre with my young one, all those years ago, when I was in London for her graduation at LSE. It was her treat. I had missed a scoop as Monica Lewinsky was at the graduation, with her mother. We were feet away from them. I wanted to go and say hello and ask them if I could take a photo of them. Not to sell but for my diary but daughter would not hear of it. "No, you definitely cannot do that, Ma!" We enjoyed that production of Cabaret very much, even if in my memory it is still tied to the 'Lewinsky incident.'

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All those years later and so many versions of Cabaret, produced all over the world it was now coming up on my doorstep at the Manoel Theatre; Malta's very own version of this famous musical. I was not going to miss it. And I didn't. I went to the last performance on the Sunday to find a full theatre.  

The mood was set. There were actors in the auditorium, some provocatively dressed,  chatting to members of the audience until the curtain went up. A neighbour remarked; 'How vulgar!' Well this was not going to be a refined Oscar Wilde number with characters speaking in plumy accents, sitting in 'polite' drawing rooms,  listening to madrigals. Most of the action was going to take place at The Kit Kat Club one of Berlin's infamous dance venues then, and even now, I gather.

This was Berlin in the '30s. In the dimly lit corners of the city's  nightlife,  amidst the tumultuous backdrop of the Weimer Republic's final days, the musical unfolds as a seductive and cautionary tale.  It's where the Kit Kat Klub's raucous ensemble, led by the enigmatic Emcee, invites audiences to leave their troubles behind. Yet, as the political landscape darkens, the show's characters find themselves caught in a society on the brink of seismic change.  Cabaret is not just a performance; it's a mirror reflecting the decadence and denial of a world dancing on the edge of a precipice. The themes are enduring and the haunting relevance that keeps Cabaret as compelling today as it was at its inception.

Cabaret is not simply a joyful musical like so many we have seen.  In the words of the Director, Lucienne Camilleri (heartfelt congratulations for such a first class production): "Set in the decadent world of 1930s Berlin, this musical remains one of all times for all times. It explores human apathy, denial and a relentless sense of nationalism. It makes monsters of powerful men and cowards of weak ones and it pushes us to examine our very own existence."

Cabaret is fun. The catchy tunes, the dancing, the costumes. It was a fastpaced production and full of energy.

What I had expected to be a glass of vin ordinaire turned out to be good champagne.

After the opening scene in the train we are soon

presented with the androgynous Master of Ceremonies character, played so brilliantly and with such energy by Sean Borg.  Adorned in raucous drag, the unnamed character is a pantomime of glorious depravity. He is an absorbing sex magnet, a contorting temptation who struts across the stage like a cross between a flamingo and a marching soldier.

Everything camp and debauched is on that stage.

Sally Bowles (so skilfully played by Maxine Aquilina). Quirky and flighty, she has woeful luck with her relationships with men. Yet when she meets a decent one, the American writer, Clifford Bradshaw played by a talented Jason Scerri (whose cv is most interesting,) and who wants to take her back to America with him, she refuses preferring to remain at the Kit Kat Club. Worse still, she aborts her baby, his baby. How foolish! How sad! How wrong!

Let us not forget Fräulein Kost and her sailors. This important character was played with great energy by Natassja Chapman. Germany was facing serious economic problems in the '30's. The country was bankrupt. There was inflation and high unemployment. She had little choice but to sell her body to survive.

I have heard Neville Refalo sing several times and he is one of my favourite local singers. In this musical he played Ernst Ludwig, a friendly and likable German who initially befriends the American writer Clifford Bradshaw on a train.His character symbolises the insidious rise of Nazism in everyday life and the way it infiltrated personal relationships. Ernst is involved with the Nazi party, smuggling funds for them and soon involves his new friend, Clifford Bradshaw.Their relationship is doomed.

 

The Music Director was Ryan Paul Abela. In his words: "In the realm of Cabaret, you are not just a Musical Director; you are a storyteller, a visionary, and a true maestro of the stage." What is a musical with the support of a good orchestra or indeed good costumes.

In costume designer Stefania Grech Vella's words."Dreaming and creating these fantastical looks together with Teatru Manoel's extraordinary seamstress Dorothy Ebejer Catillo,  makeup artist Talith Dimech and the rest of the costume team, has been an absolute  treat for our imagination and creativity." It was the same for the audience.

I am mentioning Herr Schultz (Stephen Oliver) who played a Jewish fruit vendor and Fräulein Schneider (Isabel Warrington) who owns a boarding  house, last, as their poignant and short-lived love story was so touching and their acting vintage champagne.  Their relationship in fact ends as a result of the growing anti-Semitism. We can only try to imagine what happened to him in Nazi Germany once the Nazis took control.

The ensemble of dancers and minor characters: without them there would not have been a musical.

There is plenty to write about this production of Cabaret but all I want to do here is record it for posterity. The whole team which must have spent hours and hours rehearsing, planning and so on certainly rose to the occasion.

 Last but not least a word about the Artistic Director of our national theatre, Adrian Mamo, who has brought so many gifts with him, so many ideas and is putting them into practice. Grazzi hafna!

Allow me one last sentence: If only life were a cabaret!

 

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