Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre Performance Company at The Cremorne Theatre, QPAC Brisbane
“It couldn’t please me more”
In early 1930s Berlin, writer Clifford begins an affair with Kit Kat Klub cabaret singer Sally. Their room is let by an old woman who has recently developed a romance with an old Jewish man. Germany in the thirties: you know things are going to get tense.
Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre is not a musical theatre company. While highly respected (rumour has it they are scarily strict), I was not sure what to expect from a company with such little musical background. Their decision to perform Cabaret speaks to the depth of the material; though I’m a little insulted they feel the need to defend their choice to perform a musical at all. Cabaret is a strange mix of musical theatre, Breactian political commentary and drama. I felt the latter would take precedence with this company but there was an equal balance. The show is full of energy, tension and emotion in all the right places.
The actors were impeccable, each creating a unique performance in both the songs and drama. The Emcee was neither Joel Grey’s showman nor Alan Cumming’s S&M creation, instead channelling a gaudy Marlene Dietrich. I had read that the Sally Bowles character of the show was not the same as the Liza Minnelli Oscar-winning creation I was used to, which was for the best as no actress could hope to recreate it on-stage. All of Sally’s songs had an approach that differed from Minnelli’s, particularly ‘Mein Heir’ in which she held each deep “bye” and paused to completely change the pace. I was honestly astonished to discover that the actress had never actually performed in musical theatre before. All the actors moved seamlessly from fully developed characters to Kit Kat Klub entertainers like seasoned veterans.
The show itself deals with people facing persecution, a subject that will sadly always be relevant. The touching romance between Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz made the knowledge that things would only become worse for Jews like Schultz all the more heart-breaking. Yet Schneider’s defence for breaking up the relationship in ‘What Would You Do?’ makes us all wonder the same thing. It’s far more effective than the film’s secondary love story in which two Jews marry with untold consequences. There are many thought provoking moments that are all staged for maximum emotional effect. At the end of act 1, a likeable character reveals a swastika armband under his coat and begins the Nazi Party anthem ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me.’ Supported by other members of the party, the song becomes louder and as the last lines are repeated, they slowly raise their arms in salute to Hitler. The first act ends on that harrowing moment which is only an indication of the ending of the show itself.
With an amazing book and fantastic actors, there is no need for any flashy sets or costumes. The small theatre is closer to the setting of The Kit Kat Klub and allows greater intimacy than a large scale production. There is nothing a big budget or famous name could add to this — it is the best independent musical theatre production I’ve ever seen. After wowing audiences and winning The Matilda Award for Best Musical, hopefully Zen Zen Zo will change their minds and perform more of the great works musical theatre has to offer.