A warm willkommen and a burlesque bienvenue await all who enter the Kit Kat Club in search of some Cabaret. The customised Playhouse is transformed with colour-coded bars, golden glitz and choreographed set pieces even before the house opens – and when it does, what a scene, with ringside seats, a buoyant band occupying two boxes in the circle and a bird’s eye view of the circular hydraulic stage for those up in the gods.
The in-the-round performance is only one reason why this feels like an intimate club rendezvous rather than a theatre spectacular. Jake Shears’ star turn as the Emcee is another. His vocal chops are undeniable but there has always been a Pan-like air about the Scissor Sisters frontman which matters more here than his technical abilities. He really does seem born to play this role.
Rebecca Lucy Taylor, already known to be a magnetic and impish live performer as Self Esteem, is his match as Sally Bowles, capable of communicating the light and shade of the character both in song and dialogue as the devil-may-care ingénue façade is gradually stripped away to reveal the vulnerable young woman trying to paper over her cracks. See both of them before they exit the Club in March.
Elsewhere, Nathan Ives-Moiba fails to make much of vanilla observer Cliff Bradshaw but Beverley Klein and Teddy Kempner are supremely touching as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, the true tortured love affair of the tale, and the Kit Kat dancers are a devilish delight.
There is a balance to be struck between the jazz hands hedonism of the Kit Kat Club and the encroaching Nazi horror on the streets of Berlin but this production is not squeamish about the jackboot march towards terror and holds its nerve in the dark second half as Sally Bowles finally has to face the music with a rendition of Cabaret which is equal parts plaintive and pzazzy.