First Night: Musical glories in the seedy smell of success: Cabaret - Donmar Warehouse

David Lister
Friday 10 December 1993 01:02 GMT

JOHN KANDER, who wrote the music for Cabaret, watched this production for 20 minutes then turned to Sam Mendes, the director, whispering with pleasure his verdict on Alan Cumming's pouting androgynous master of ceremonies: 'He's disgusting,' purred the composer. 'He's right in your face.'

This was a Cabaret not just to savour but to smell.

The seedy glamour of the Kit Kat Club of Weimar Republic Berlin was recreated with night-club-style tables in the stalls, walls of the set covered in yellowing newspaper and decorated with mirrorballs and slashed curtains. The cast wore original clothes from the period that Sue Blane, the designer, trawled antiques shops for. Ushers even tried to seduce you as you entered.

Jane Horrocks, bringing the perfect blend of gamine vulnerability and Sloaney precociousness to Sally Bowles, must have felt that she had been in pre-war Berlin over the last week. A stream of newspaper articles set about redefining the character of the real Sally Bowles.

Sir Stephen Spender, the poet, recalled the sensual beauty with an inaudible singing voice that Christopher Isherwood introduced him to in the Thirties and lamented that she became a Communist Party activist. He wrote last week: 'There are some people whom one feels it is not serious for them to become serious; or it is serious for them not to be serious; or perhaps intolerably serious for oneself when they become serious.'

The daughter of Jean Ross (on whom Sally Bowles was based) leapt to her late mother's defence on Monday, retorting that she was an intellectual who tired of Britain's pre-war literati telling her how beautiful she was.

Her mother had also shattered one of the most vivid fictional images, telling her daughter she had never worn green nail varnish in her life.

Miss Horrocks thought she had only the vivid memory of Liza Minnelli's screen portrayal to contend with.

As it was she created a very different figure in a memorably thrilling production that managed to turn audience laughter into a chill of fear at the end of the first act when comic misfits at a party emerged as Nazi sympathisers singing 'Tomorrow Belongs To Me'.

Sir Stephen Spender said last night: 'I thought it was wonderfully done and she is marvellous. She was in some ways very like the real Sally Bowles, the character of being amusing without being egotistic, not having the pronoun I attached. It's very difficult to portray the clash between the moral outrageousness of the Weimar Republic and the horrible pretence-puritanism of the Nazis. I wish that had perhaps been more strongly stressed.'

A review of Cabaret will appear in tomorrow's paper

(Photograph omitted)

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