First Night: Cabaret, Lyric Theatre, London

Revival liberates the anarchic side of Weimar
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The Independent Culture

In this hectic autumn season of theatre, we are being treated to not one but two high-profile shows that can't be restrained from breaking into song and dance in the neighbourhood of Nazis. Opening next month, we have The Sound of Music.

First up, though, there is Cabaret. In this Weimar world of polymorphous sexual perversity, let's get at least one thing absolutely straight. Rufus Norris's production of the Kander/Ebb classic is the most stunningly fresh and imaginative revival of a classic musical that I have ever seen.

Genius has gone into the radical re-thinking of this piece by the director, by the choreographer, Javier de Frutos, and by the designer, Katrina Lindsay. This is, I'd guess, how they reasoned it out. Their strategy has been to liberate that dark anarchic side of the piece - and that's not showy or superficial because in Weimar Berlin, just before the Nazi takeover, the id was frighteningly close to the decadent surface. So, for example, here, in the cunningly relocated "Money" song, James Dreyfus'smaster of ceremonies stuffs his face with currency that would, in an era of hyper-inflation, probably have more nutritional value than the substances they would buy.

When the fascist anthem "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" is sung, the nudists of the rather hatefully nationalist naturist clubs of the period swarm theladders that are a witty feature of the staging. The pay-off is that the nudity is re-evoked at the end - this time with the naturists morphed into naked Jews about to be gassed in the camps.

The casting is peerless. Anna Maxwell Martin is the best and most crashingly accurate Sally Bowles to date, though she may not please people who come with closed hearts wanting Liza Minnelli. She plays Sally as all brittle, tittering bravado, desperate to be thought a dizzy debutante rather than the hideously vulnerable, hammered creature she is. Awesomely flaky, defiant, fantastic renditions of "Everybody Loves A Winner" and the sensational "Cabaret" done as if it were end-of-the-tether brinkmanship.

And The Sound of Music is alluded to with hilarious tongue-in-cheek wit in Sally's first number. Bye Bye Mein Lieber Nun?