A LETTER FROM LONDON: Much Ado in India, Cabaret and I Am a Camera, Alan Ayckbourn's Chorus of Disapproval

By Ruth Leon
03 Nov 2012

Michelle Ryan in Cabaret.
Photo by Keith Pattison
Interesting to see, in the same month, a small theatre production of John Van Druten's I Am A Camera, based on the "Berlin Stories" of Christopher Isherwood, and a major new West End production of the Kander and Ebb musical, Cabaret, from the same source material. They're both very good indeed. The play is performed in an old wine vault, musty and dark, perfect for this evocation of the decadent Berlin '30s, leading to the catastrophe that was World War Two. Splendidly acted, directed and designed, this version is well worth the trip to the Southwark Playhouse.

Rufus Norris' new production of Cabaret is shockingly good. I had misgivings when I heard that Will Young, the first winner of television's "Pop Idol," was to play the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret. This is an iconic role, as specific to Joel Grey as Yul Brynner was to The King and I, and I doubted whether Young had the dramatic chops to carry it. Wrong, again. He's really creepy in a disgustingly playful way, just as he should be, and Rufus Norris' dark production pays proper attention to the seedy and sordid side of Sally Bowles' Berlin life.

The score soars as always, Sian Phillips and Linal Haft are affecting as the older couple in '30s Berlin who simply can't be together because he is Jewish and she isn't, and, although young Michelle Ryan in her first major role, is no Liza Minnelli, her Sally Bowles has just the right touch of louche sexiness to carry her.

Javier di Frutos disjointed, spasmodic choreography is a true metaphor for a fragmented decadent society fast descending into goose-stepping Nazi chaos. The underlying menace, intentioned by its authors, leads to a terrifying final scene, which I won't spoil for you, but which confirms Rufus Norris, along with Jamie Lloyd whose Cyrano has recently won plaudits on Broadway, as the best of the young British directors.

(Ruth Leon is a London and New York City arts writer and critic whose work has been seen in Playbill magazine and other publications.)

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