A Berlin Kabaret – Songs of Revolution, Love and Exile – (Soho Theatre) – review by Carole Woddis.

Why A Berlin Kabaret and why now?  Berlin’s Kabaret came out of very particular times.  But those drawn to it didn’t just live through their own dark times.  They have things to impart to us about our world now.  None more so than Bertolt Brecht.

So decided Sue Parrish, director of theatre company Sphinx.  With writer Peter Cox this trip back to 1930s political satire, performed by a group of five actor/singers acts like an electric shock, a wake-up call come to us down the decades.

Drenched in expressionistic bitter-sweet melancholy with explosively glamorous headgear (designed by Paul Dart) that contrast with the red nose and white painted clown faces and eerie half masks, Parrish and Cox’s programme of Brecht’s poems and songs by Brecht’s longtime friend and music arranger, Hanns Eisler re-invigorate lessons in man’s inhumanity, violence and exploitation in terms that still sound new minted.

Why Brecht’s Poetry, asks Peter Cox rhetorically, answering by quoting from an essay on Brecht’s poetry Tom Kuhn: `From the outset Brecht had been concerned to reach a different readership, to create a new readership for poetry, and to do that he was prepared to experiment with the medium….As well as gaining a reputation for himself as a reciter, he also included poems, songs and chants in cabaret programmes and wrote them into his own plays.’

Brecht’s poems still remain largely undervalued except by the cognoscenti unlike his political views which from time to time, get overly caricatured and traduced.

But never was there a time when his dry, cynic’s sense of outrage at Capitalism and of his sense of empathy with the downtrodden more needed than in England in 2013 where collective solidarity and being in a state of poverty have practically become terms of abuse.

So songs like `Legend of the Dead Soldier’ (a stinging rebuke to patriotism), `There’s Nothing Quite Like Money’ (Kander & Ebb must surely have taken note of this when writing `Money, Money, Money’ for their show Cabaret), `The Ballad of Marie Sanders: The Jew’s Whore’ and later, `Any Bonds Today’ (Irving Berlin on appealing to popular sentiment for America entering WWII) and `The Only Red We Want Is The Red We Got’ (Elton Britt) penned as McCarthyism was taking hold all sound or imply a battle cry for change.

Extracts from Cox’s new play, The Question, set in post-war Berlin and the States blasting East and West also cast a long shadow and round off a one and a half hour show that although presented for only two performances in Soho Theatre’s studio may hopefully only be the precursor to many more.

Katie Brennan, Philippa Buxton, Gregory Gudgeon, Jonathan Oliver and John Sandeman work wonders in a tiny but atmospheric club set-up of tables and chairs and are accompanied and enhanced, as in all such cases by the invaluable and sensitive support from the piano of music arranger, Joe Atkins.  Where would such shows be without such musicians!

A Berlin Kabaret- Songs of Revolution, Love and Exile was performed at Soho Theatre, London on Sept 20, 2013.

For more info on Sphinx Theatre, see www.sphinxtheatre.co.uk; on Soho Theatre, www.sohotheatre.com

Carole Woddis © Sept 2013.