"Sweaty, sexy and sintilliatingly sinful: Zen Zen Zo pushes all the right buttons in "Cabaret"
Like a dark chocolate with notes of fine liquors and spices, Zen Zen Zo’s powerful, sweat laced, adrenalin fuelled and masterfully youthful interpretation of the musical classic “Cabaret” is a luxurious indulgence that is both deliciously naughty and palette pleasingly mature.
Director Lynne Bradley uses her slight of hand to plunge us deep into the sleazy and steamy underbelly of Berlin nightlife at the end of the Weimar Republic; a world of sex, music, dance, booze and where the wicked hedonism of the night has left the players in this sultry scene almost unaware of the looming terror that is growing in their political sphere and runs like a current through the whole production. With a live band and Bill Haycock’s minimalistic, virtually Brechtian set, our eyes are directed squarely on the cast.
And what a cast! Hot bodies gyrating and moving with almost menacing deliberateness, their focus expertly wrought as they cavort in and out of the darkness on stage. The voices supremely hitting the classic score, belting out numbers as vivid as the lights of the nightclub itself causing the audience to erupt into raucous applause and hum those old showtunes much later.
Zen Zen Zo’s vision of the classic “Cabaret” is a physical powerhouse, with dance, movement, gesture, gymnastics and is delightfully sweaty. The dances and physical movements of their production are an absolute joy to behold, the sexual energy that runs through this play will have your hair absolutely standing on end and you can not help but enjoy the non-stop perpetual motion of the players, my salute goes to the choreographer; Martyn Flemming for pulling out all the stops of world class physical theatre.
But it’s not just the dance and the gyrating that will grab your attention, Zen Zen Zo brings you into the drama of this piece and does so wonderfully with their delightful and auspiciously talented leads Emma Dean (Sally Bowles) and Matthew Hadgraft (Cliff Bradshaw) who deliver their roles with likeable conviction and wonderful believability. Emma Dean in particular takes the role of Sally Bowles and makes it totally her own fusing together, but never directly channeling all those classic-cum-tragic movie star heroines of yore, her singing voice is an absolute spectacle and her portrayal of a much loved classic musical figure is both contemporary and with all the flavor of a classic. Matthew Hadgraft’s role of the clumsy Cliff Bradshaw is endearing and emotional, he is instantly likeable and a powerful presence in the production.
Perhaps the most important (and often overlooked) part of “Cabaret” is its deep political message. This was not left out by Zen Zen Zo, nor was it re-iterated over and over again so that it tired or alienated the audience, instead the looming Nazi threat and its well-known horrific consequences for the types of people that “Cabaret” is about; the jews, the homosexuals, the night-club dancers, steadily builds throughout the play gaining momentum, growing in menace almost like a nightmare before reaching a powerful ending which was both visceral and shocking in its stark brutality and how that was juxtaposed against the raucous flavour of the rest of the piece, it was both staggering and brilliant and hits you right in the guts, right at the end of the play so you walk out thinking “they did NOT just go there!”… I won’t ruin it for you except to say that this play both delights….and shocks!
The stand out performance for me was of Sandro Colarelli (The Emcee) whose vocal range and consistent energy was a delight and a joy, his presence gave the whole play an impetus but he also gave an order to the wonderful chaos that was unfolding in the constant grinding, music, dancing and singing and his stunning costume was well placed among sexual grinning almost fierce visages of the other creatures of the underworld we meet in “Cabaret”
Since I first encountered the work of Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre in my late teen years I have connected them in my mind to world class physical theatre performance with a political edge. They have delivered on that. But they have also gone so much further with a re-interpretation of a classic that they have made thoroughly their own, divinely sublime, deeply wicked and absolutely…..delicious.