Come hear the Music Play


On Saturday night while most of Britain were watching SuBo, Stavros Flatley and others on Britain's Got Talent, and a few other discerning citizen's of Belfast were elsewhere in this fair city watching a modernised mystery cycle, my wife and I went to the production of Cabaret at the Grand Opera House.

As we crossed the road to get to the theatre we passed a pink fire engine which had been converted to a luxury limousine, packed with well-oiled young "ladies" out for the night. And one of these delightful creatures reversed herself into the small, open side window of this vehicle and treated me and other passers-by to a proctologist's-eye view of her... But it was a suitable introduction towhat was to come...

I've never seen the stage version of Cabaret before, despite seeing the Bob Fosse/Liza Minnelli film many times. They are completely different beasts, not only in terms of plaot and characters, but also because the play is much more "in your face" than the film (a la that young lady's buttocks), but I am not sure whether that is a function of Hollywood prurience (although the film was risque for its time), or the need to go that little bit further today for shock value. I would be interested in hearing the verdict of anyone who had seen both the 1960s and the modern version of the stage show. Especially as regards the last naked tableau, with the hissing gas. I'm just not sure whether that works or not.

Before getting all negative let me say first that I really enjoyed the production. But its a rare day that I don't come away with a few gripes.

On a general note, I always have difficulty with those productions that try to create a "seedy" atmosphere in a theatre as plush as the Opera House... They all too often ignore the wider theatre space and try to pretend they are performing inside a plain black box, but this can be quite alienating for audiences. It is, however, one of the almost inevitable side-effects of a touring show. But a little bit of thought about some of the unique features of each venue, could make the "Cabaret" experience become much more alive.

Also some of the stylised staging just didn't work... What they were doing pushing ladders back and forward I will never know. There also seemed to be no rationale to the seemingly random use of large letters as props. But it is not inconceivable that I missed something.

Most of the performances were great. Wayne Sleep's Emcee was suitably creepy, and he had fun with the audience about his ability to dance with increasing years. However he had the diction of a dancer, and in certain places I was glad that the whole show was captioned. Samantha Barks had the unenviable task of playing the "Minnelli role": Sally Bowles. For those who don't remember (like myself) Samantha was third placed in last year's search for Nancy "I'll Do Anything..." The one thing she couldn't do however, was dance... She sang well, but her movement was less than alluring and she didn't really convey the emotional complexity required.

You see now why I wanted to be clear from the outset that I actually DID enjoy myself. But when you fork out a fortune for a ticket these days you want things to be just right... And don't get me started on the reliance of everyone these days on radio mics... We have a generation of actors and singers who couldn't fill a theatre with their voice without the aid of a 10,000 megawatt sound-system, and when 2 mics went down during one song on Saturday night, there was no attempt by the singers in question to raise the volume to try to accommodate.

But back to the beginning and my visual encounter with that girl's gluteus maximus. As the night went on I began to realise that the supposed permissive nature of Berlin in the Weimar Republic probably pales into insignificance with every day life in modern Britain. Where there not a couple of burlesque dancers on the supposedly family orientated "Britain's Got Talent"(of course with CGI Union Jacks suitably positioned)? And one of the tenets of "Cabaret" is to contrast the liberalism of Berlin's Cabaret culture, with the Nazism that came after.

And there is always a danger that the pendulum can swing from one to the other: from the repression of Cromwell's puritan republic to the permissiveness of the Restoration, and ultimately back to the prurience of Victorian England. At present we are in the the midst of one of the sexually most permissive, if not outright hedonistic periods in British social history.

And the church is not immune. Its moral theology currently seems to be guided by what will cause the least controversy rather than by what is the authentic will of God. Even dress-code on a Sunday has changed so radically that in one service that I attended recently, there was so much thigh and cleavage on display that it wouldn't have seemed out of place in Cabaret.

So what's next?

I don't want to be alarmist, but I don't like signs of the BNP gathering momentum, helped by the recent revelations regarding our honourable members. And there may well be a parallel conservative swing in churches too.

But there has to be a different option, a middle way between the hedonism of popular culture today, and the authoritarian approach of those on the right wing, between license and legalism. But it isn't an easy course to steer.


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