"Everything is performative in this musical"JOHANNES HJORTH

I’d naturally like to begin by explaining just how much the secret location contributed to my experience of a Cabaret rehearsal but I have been informed that I cannot. Because it is a secret – a fact which it is difficult not to find initially frustrating. Within moments of my arrival however, the benefits of this approach immediately become clear: the atmosphere of the hidden Kit Kat Club, seedy, grungy and dark, is all the more potent for being reached unexpectedly.

Director Myles O’Gorman explains that the audience will be told a meeting point in central Cambridge 24 hours in advance and then guided by the cast themselves to that night’s venue. “Basically it’s the whole Alice in Wonderland, rabbit hole type-thing. The audience will be led down the rabbit hole into the Cabaret club.”

'Here life is beautiful’JOHANNES HJORTH

I suppose (I later considered) this also has the advantage of excluding Cabaret from the pretty unnecessary non-hierarchy of Pembroke, Corpus and ADC main/ late shows – although the extent to which this influences our preconceptions of shows is perhaps not worth going into here. I prefer Myles’ vision: “The cabaret club is almost this atemporal floating space – we don’t know when it’s going to pop up – but it’s going to pop up. It’s 1930s Berlin so I kind of love the idea that there’s a 1930s Berlin floating around in time somewhere, and that it just kind of pops out of gaps.”

“The audience is made to play the audience of cabaret-goers in Nazi Germany”

“Cabaret is a musical about performance, and about art,” he declares, and it is important to consider the substantial difference he makes by setting the musical within the cabaret club itself – not only are the actors playing actors, but also the audience is made to play the audience of cabaret-goers in Nazi Germany. ‘Everything is performative in this musical,’ adds the director, who is described by a fellow crew member as ‘visionary.’

Keen to emphasise this performative aspect, Myles describes how actors take on multiple roles to draw attention to what he calls ‘the performative façade’. He gives as an example the Emcee, played by Seth Kruger, who, as a Jew, assumes his eccentric Master-of-Ceremonies character as a result of the Nazi-led society’s denial of his true identity. 

Seth Kruger plays EmceeJOHANNES HJORTH

This vision has certainly been taken up by the cast. Holly Musgrave says that one of the things she most likes, yet also finds the most challenging, about playing Sally Bowles is that ‘she’s such an actress herself.’ I get a sense of a Russian doll effect; actors play actors who are playing a whole host of caricatures. Seth explains how his interest in the sad clown concept informed his understanding of the ‘doll-like’ and ‘robotic’ style of the Emcee, summarising the character through the depressed Victorian clown Grimaldi’s joke ‘I make you laugh at night but am Grim-all-day.’

Performativity is further made visible by what Myles informs me is the ‘Brechtian’ approach to dress – each cast member (excluding Cliff, the author-observer figure based upon Christopher Isherwood and played by Joe Sefton) is a performer in the cabaret club, and wears a base-layer of costume accordingly. Then extra garments are added to signify extra character roles – Jasmin Rees dons a heavy jacket when she plays the male Nazi, Ernst, for example.

The costumes designed by Emily Dan and Anna Russell, by the way, look fantastic, albeit slightly demanding for the cast. I would be hesitant to use the phrase ‘wardrobe malfunction’, but readers should be warned that in the case of Seth Kruger’s low-cut corset, a nipslip was certainly observed (although a safety pin was sourced to rectify the matter).

‘Leave your troubles outside. Here life is beautiful’, famously proclaims Emcee. Yet you should not expect a straightforward evening of merry dancehall entertainment. Over the course of the performance, as the political setting increasingly encroaches upon the soon-to-disappear Kit Kat Klub, the superficiality of its pseudo-glamorous façade is to be made uncomfortably clear. ‘You doubt yourself,’ says Jasmin, ‘watching it and acting it.’ Or, as Myles puts it: ‘It’s all founded on pillars of… glitter'