Not many people showed up to see Cabaret, which was put on by the Trinity College Drama Society (TCDS). The George Ignatieff Theatre is a small, intimate space, but I still felt rather lonely occupying one seat in the otherwise vacant left side of the theatre. It was only the centre section that had more than one occupant. The trickling turnout was disappointing, considering that it is certainly one of the best shows I’ve seen at the university this year.
In Cabaret, financially and creatively destitute American novelist Cliff Bradshaw (played by Kevin Matthew Wong) travels to Berlin in the dying days of Weimar Germany to find inspiration for his novel. Upon arrival, he falls in love with British singer Sally Bowles (Rachel Hart), who works at the Kit Kat Club, a decadent, gratuitously racy cabaret with a mysterious, polyamorous master of ceremonies (Shak Haq).
Sally, Clifford, Clifford’s landlord Fraulein Schneider (Jocelyn Kraynyk), and her close admirer Herr Schulz (Jeffrey Kennes) must confront the political tension and growing hatred brought on by the rise of the Nazi party.
With its sin city setting and dramatic historical backdrop, Cabaret has no shortage of shocking moments. The show’s real haymaker, however, is a romantic song and dance between the Emcee and one of the cabaret dancers (Alice Guo), who is dressed in a gorilla suit.
“I understand your objection,” the Emcee sings (it’s a gorilla, for goodness sake). The metaphor becomes clearer when he elaborates, “but if you could see she through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.” Cabaret is a defense of love and a defense against hatred — a theme that sounds trite but is hard to pull off convincingly.
It’s all the more impressive that TCDS’s production deftly handles those themes in a polished, confident, and gorgeous manner. Haq’s Emcee really holds the show together. He has a colourful sense of showmanship, and the true spirit of his character comes out in his moment of vulnerability toward the end. Kevin Matthew Wong’s performance is more puzzling, in neither a good nor bad way. There’s something overzealous about his acting, which is not ineffective but definitely inconsistent with the style of the rest of the cast. When he speaks, he seems to address the audience rather than the other characters. He acts very earnestly to the point of awkwardness.
The set’s centrepiece is a gauze-like, sequined curtain that veils the band and hangs from a metal frame. Low round tables are added to make up the Kit Kat Club or the armchair and desk that represent Clifford’s room. Generated fog, coupled with the small size of the stage, expressed a smoky, claustrophobic atmosphere appropriate for the setting.
Costumes are detailed, evocative, and bountiful. Most characters get at least three full costume changes (except for Clifford, who never seems to change his clothes), including various cabaret performance dresses, sailor outfits, Nazi officer uniforms, and plenty of fishnet tights. The costumes look expensive, too, which makes it even more disappointing that there was such a small turnout.
The tech crew assembled a thoughtful lighting design, complete with window-frame gobos for “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” and evocative green lighting during “Money.” I also appreciated the live percussion sound effects that accompany Clifford’s fight scene with Ernst Ludwig (Matthew Fonte).
The confidence of the performers alongside the support of the tech crew created a strong, stable performance. The set transitions and general infrequency of actors exiting the stage lent the show a certain honesty. All of this combined with the homeliness of the George Ignatieff theatre made for quite an intimate experience. It certainly deserved a full house.