Review: Cabaret's Jess Buckley Pours Her Heart And Soul Into Sally Bowles
“I used to love pretending I was someone else, someone quite mysterious and fascinating. Until one day I grew up and realised that I was mysterious and fascinating.”
At the first performance of Cabaret in New York in 1967, the set was divided into two motorised halves — and only one half came on. Despite that inauspicious start, it has been revived on both sides of the Atlantic to award-winning acclaim many times since.
The posters for this latest outing unsurprisingly spotlights headliners Eddie Redmayne and Jesse Buckley but there's more to this tale of love, loss and regret set in seedy early-1930s Berlin nightspot The Kit Kat Club than star power.
Writers Kander and Ebb’s songs are used to uplift rather than carry the plot. Tomorrow Belongs To Me — a stirring anti-fascist song later adopted sans irony by right-wing groups — is brilliantly realised with Redmayne dressed in a glorious goth gimp outfit. The penultimate number Cabaret is a blockbuster in its own right and sees Buckley pour her heart and soul into a literal descent into madness.
The stars fare very differently under Rebecca Frecknall’s direction. Redmayne is occasionally a strong physical and sinister presence but often gurns and mugs throughs his role as the EmCee and his dialogue is mangled by a German accent more appropriate to ’Allo ’Allo.
In contrast, Buckley’s take on Sally Bowles deserves every award going; whether displaying irresistibly coy charm, angry defiance or quiet desperation, she utterly owns the stage.
Omari Douglas, meanwhile, follows up his great work in AIDS drama It’s A Sin by taking on the role of new boy in town Clifford Bradshaw. Through his eyes and those of his landlady (a heart-grabbing performance by Liza Sadovy), we see how the political tide turns towards the Nazi party and its Swastika-sporting adherents.
Finally, a special mention to Tom Scutt’s set and costume designs, which are clever, exciting and a memorable aspect in their own right. Unlike the stage in Cabaret's original outing, this play comes together beautifully.
Cabaret, Kit Kat Club, Playhouse Theatre. Until 1 October 2022.
Photos by Marc Brenner.
Last Updated 17 December 2021