Cabaret audiences walk into the Kit Kat Klub in The MAC’s main theatre space and find a 1930s Berlin nightclub. The posh seats are around tables along three sides of the stage, with waiting staff serving cocktails, a band playing … and that’s before anyone has come on stage.
As the immersive musical starts, the audience quickly get an eyeful of the raunchy acts that performed in the Kit Kat Klub. The band and the cast merge with instruments being played in amongst the action. (I obviously missed the violin grade that required dancing across the stage in high heels, playing pitch perfect, and being lifted up through the air from behind without dropping a note! And where do Bruiser cast for accordion-playing actresses?!)
The story is unfamiliar and while the plot builds up slowly, the first act (by far the longer of the two) is peppered with songs and energetic dance numbers in the club. The central romance is between Cliff Bradshaw (played by Matthew Forsythe), an American writer who has come to Berlin to work on his novel, and English girl Sally Bowles (Kerri Quinn) who sings in the club.
Off the club stage, life is hectic and mixed up too. Cliff’s landlord Fraulein Schneider (Katie Tumelty who has nearly doubled in age for the role) objects to the loose morals of some of the women boarding in her rooms. All the while she is being wooed by Herr Shultz (Karl O’Neill) who showers her with exotic fruit when he visits. They make such a sweet couple.
Yet the bubble is about to burst for the seedy, carefree hedonistic lives of the performers and punters in the Kit Kat Klub. The second act musically and emotionally slides into a sombre, discordant key as the reality of the Nazi upsurge hits home, testing relationships and breaking down trust. All the main characters must make life-changing decisions, and suffer consequences.
“In the end, what other choice do I have?”
Sally’s soulful delivery of “Life is a Cabaret” is a real highlight of the show and the tune is still rattling around my head two days later. The Klub’s Emcee – played fabulously by Patrick J O’Reilly – is remarkably versatile as he swaps between playful, lewd and vulnerable.
There are times that so much was going on – fast lyrics, loud music, seductive dancing – that it all got a bit distracting. And some of the dialogue scenes then felt flat in-between the bouncy cabaret songs.
Humour, slapstick and unexpected entrances pervade the show. Even the lighting raises a smirk as a tiny lamp shade shoots down into position for scenes in the boarding house. And watch out for the heart shapes formed by the follow spots during one of Sally’s early songs. The delicate attention to detail across the production is amazing and becoming Bruiser’s trademark.
All over the MAC building, staff are kitted out in Cabaret/Kit Kat Klub style uniforms for the duration of the run. Even the interval bell has been replaced with a more period warning sound.
Bruiser and the MAC have thrown everything at this high-kicking/goose-stepping production. Audiences will either be amazed or offended at the risqué riot of culture, fashion and changing society. (In years gone by, protesters would surely have been standing outside the MAC on Academy Street. Today, modern Belfast has councillors from a spread of parties attending the show rather than holding placards.)
Reflecting social and political change through the mirror of the opulent yet sleazy Kit Kat Klub, Cabaret in the MAC runs until the 4 October.
Several eggs and some Worcester sauce is consumed during this performance.