first night


Danielle Oliver gets her fill of filth with DULOG's production of 'Cabaret'


I love this musical. It's raunchy, it's political – it gets you hot and then pushes you out into the cold. And if it's half-baked, it's a disaster. Thankfully, DULOG showed no shame tonight.


Before I had even crossed the Assembly Rooms threshold, cabaret girls greeted me; they sat outside and lured the audience in, as though the theatre was the seedy club itself. These girls – professional enough to maintain characters in the cold for god knows how long – were mere pilot fish for what awaited inside. 


Praise must be given to Daniel Gosselin and Jonny Browning (Lighting Designer and Technical Director, respectively) for the visual spectacle they created. Strings of mismatched bulbs reached out into the auditorium, fracturing the divide between the stage and the audience. The stage itself was thick with haze, and vibrantly lit with pinks, reds, blues and purples, continually complimenting tired domestic scenes and high-energy cabaret numbers alike. This consistency made the absence of light and colour in more serious scenes far more striking, and caused the audience to crave that jovial party atmosphere that they'd been gifted with before (much like feelings experienced by the leading lady, Sally Bowles.) 


But I get ahead of myself. I must return to the show's introduction – to the Kit Kat Club and all the wonders that laid within...


The cabaret girls were vacant one minute and rampant the next; a juxtaposition which rendered their performances hypnotic. Credit where credit is due to the imaginative choreography of Johanna Rutherford and the bravery of these girls for taking filth to the extreme. Lord alone knows why they were wearing white... Stand out performances were Sarah Slimani, who proved enigmatic and made eye contact with audience members at every given opportunity, and Natasha Taylor, whose attitude shone through the debauched glamour in a way that shouldn't have been enticing, but was. Admittedly there were a few dodgy high notes, stumbled vocals, hesitances and wandering eyes from the group at times, but I feel this can largely be put down to first night nerves and in no way overshadowed the merits of their performances.


It then seems natural to move on to Hugh Train's portrayal of the Emcee, which was ridiculous, depraved, intelligent and all together majestic. Overlooking the action throughout the play and often meddling in scenes where he oughtn't, Hugh (with Izzy Osborne's direction) seemed to trap the whole world in his club and claim the show as his own. “Welcome to Germany” he said, “I hope you enjoy your stay.” Well, now that I've seen you in tight leather shorts, dancing with a gorilla, Hugh, I can firmly say that I did.


Moving now to Elissa Churchill’s portrayal of Sally Bowles. So many actresses are so conscious about being pretty and flawless that it bars them from playing this character well. Churchill – after some warming up – brought the charm to this character that I was so eagerly waiting to see. She flitted about the stage, easily distracted, sulky and optimistic and was far from a two-dimensional leading lady. Her rendition of 'Cabaret' was simply perfect. 


And the chemistry with Cliff was brilliant. Churchill, paired with Charlie Keable, brought so much emotion to the stage; Keable himself proving to be unintentionally charming and a fiercely strong singer, successfully allowing his character to transition from being quiet and controlled to impassioned and all together changed.


The other couple in the play – Fraulein Schneider (Clementine Medforth) and Herr Schultz (Russell Lamb) – equally portrayed a dynamic that could be sympathised with. Medforth's performance struggled in parts, with an inconsistent accent (which occasionally sounded South African) and some notes which were too low for her, or at times simply inaudible. Equally, her portrayal of an older woman who had supposedly experienced the world and its hardships was lacking, and brought back memories of school productions where students are forced to act characters way beyond their years. This could have been forgiveable, had it not been for the comparison with Lamb, who portrayed his character's age and experiences with complete ease. Dorky, clumsy – Lamb's performance was a delight to watch. His ability to deliver 'Meeskite' - a funny and heart warming song - in such an awkward and hostile setting is commendable. 


Recognition should also go to Clarissa Lonsdale as Fraulein Kost and Joe McWilliam as Ernst Ludwig for their gorgeous voices and overall professionalism, and indeed to Patrick Bell and Isabelle Horler as the Nazi Youth, whose voices were silky soft and sent chills down my spine. 


The direction of Osborne, assisted by Ellie Gauge, was ingenious on a multitude of levels. The two-tiered stage not only allowed for the band to be visible, but made for an interesting use of a performance space that has been seen and used again and again. They maintained the balance of filth, comedy and political severity brilliantly; so much so that on multiple occasions, the audience were so unsettled, so haunted, that they hesitated to clap. Not for a lack of appreciation, you understand – for being so very immersed in such a disturbing scenario. Osborne and Gauge were not totally ruthless, however; the final number was directed in such a way that the audience were comfortably and slowly dismissed. “Where are your troubles now?” They asked, “Forgotten?”



With music brilliantly mastered by Hatty Ekbery, James Tate and the band, and an overall exhilarating performance, DULOG can proudly hold Cabaret up as a shining example of what they are capable of.

13 November 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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