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Review: Cabaret at LIPA ****

One of art’s great abilities is to transcend its physical and historical boundaries to speak loudly to us about the way we are now.

Cabaret – like Heart of Darkness, a new version of which is currently on stage down the road at the Playhouse – is a case in point.

Penned in the 1960s but based loosely on Christopher Isherwood’s cautionary contemporary memoir set against the rise of fascism in (decadent) Weimer Germany, the musical offers plenty of food for thought.

So much so that you don’t really have to spell out the parallels of then and now, as this LIPA production does in its final, sombre moments – they already hang silently, and not so silently, in the air.

Saying that, Cabaret is also a tremendously good evening’s entertainment and in the hands of Treble Theatre Productions, director Jake Norton and a talented cast of LIPA undergraduates, it’s air of louche desperation has a particular sense of rawness.

Designer Sascha Gilmour realises the seedy Kit Kat Klub – populated by scantily-clad performers - and Fraulein Schneider’s down-at-heel lodging house in minimal but effective fashion, with a portentous use of suitcases which morph in to tables, beds and train carriages as required.

There is also striking use made of historic film footage which either acts as a narrative backdrop or signals, silent movie style, a change of scene.

Against this backdrop there are a series of stylish and compelling performances, from Laura Noble’s knowing Emcee to Michael Wolf’s Belial-like political operator Ernst.

Joe Lindley as Cliff in Cabaret. Above: The Kit Kat Klub. Photos © Andrew AB Photography and The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts

While the spotlight might shine brightest on Katie Hargreaves’ emotionally brittle good-time-girl Sally (visually half Jodie Foster’s Tallulah, half Kirsten Dunst) and the show’s moral compass, penniless writer Cliff (an impressive Joe Lindley), there’s also a second romantic relationship in the mix.

And Franki Burke and Daniel Henry are delightful as the tentative Fraulein Schneider and Herr Shultz whose late-blooming love is ultimately doomed as the sinister National Socialist party starts to tighten its grip on the volk.

The embracing of that ominous ideology is exemplified in a deeply unsettling ensemble performance of Tomorrow Belongs to Me ahead of the interval.

This is very much the stage version of Cabaret, so fans of the film may be disappointed to find both Mein Herr and the beautifully plaintive Maybe Next Time have been omitted from proceedings – although Money has made the final cut.

There’s excellent work by the on-stage band, although on opening night they occasionally overwhelmed the vocals, particularly the Emcee’s opening Wilkommen.

There are no such problems in the second half where Noble’s understated performance of I Don’t Care Much is particularly powerful.

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