The Actors Theatre, 19 May 2023
The place: Berlin, Germany. The date: 1933. The setting: the very last night of the Fabulett nightclub in the wake of new Nazi laws outlawing it, and places like it, as immoral. A touchstone for the rapid rise of persecution of the queer community in the face of Germany’s previous beloved and liberal sanctuary. Michael Trauffer’s one-man musical tells the tale of the Nazi rise through the prism of a young gay man’s experience. It’s touching, vibrant, engaging, and demanding to heard and seen.
Felix – our protagonist – desperately needs to be seen, breaking hearts from the first time his mother gently encourages him as a child to be “invisible”, and then again when he offers to shed his bright self voluntarily. Costume plays a significant role, with hats used to good effect to indicate Felix’s true self’s visibility and disappearance, his celebration and hidden cowering. Clad in a leather corset and leather trousers, Trauffer’s upper torso is left bare creating a striking juxtaposition between his naked vulnerability as we see his chest rise and fall through song and caught breath, and the dark armour of a plinth of decadent fabric clothing the rest of his body.
Trauffer’s lyrics are remarkable, spitting out fast the sharp history and satire, alongside love and tenderness too. There’s a lot being said in these words and it’s a credit to him that he delivers them so articulately and clearly. The music the words pair with is distinctly German, sitting easily within the canons of both folk tunes and Weimer cabaret. A reminder that both of these influences were still prevalent at this time.
Felix is eye-catching and charming as the club’s MC, sharing his personal history as club Fabulett’s swansong. Contextualising his current persecution within the shared experiences of the early twentieth century, we learn the softer side to the flamboyant entertainer. We are also made hauntingly aware as he addresses us directly, of our own persecution as Fabulett’s audience. Drawn to to the liberal, free and accepting environment, Felix implicitly informs us that this is our last night with our own true selves, as he warns us to be careful upon departure, to disappear into dark corners and not to give up the names of our fellow part-goers. It’s a stark reflection and reminder of the current state for so many currently in the global queer community, and rightly sobering.
Fabulett 1933 is born of love and necessity. A cautionary tale that resonates chillingly as still playing out. But also a reminder of the warmth of ‘made’ families, of communities birthed from shared trauma, and a warning to keep them safe. Articulate and chilling.