Continuing our series of specialist reviewers, we invited Susanna Fiore and Jess Sedler of The Ruby Dolls to assess another all-female Brecht-influenced troupe of singers. What did they think?
PK Productions’ Halbwelt Kulture is an exploration of seven of Weimar Germany’s most influential women. Seven skilled performers present a snapshot into their lives with energy and flair, as they “Chuck All The Men Out Of The Reichstag” and dance their way through the 1920s and 1930s, continuing to do so under the shadow of the Nazis.
The fourteen songs that make up the backbone of this show are well chosen. Nothing Quite Like Money by Eisler and Brecht is a stand out number performed with nuance by Stephanie Hampton’s Blandine Ebinger who deftly used the song to take us through the journey of the character. She straddles that all-important line in cabaret where the performer reveals their pain to the audience, only to undermine it with a knowing look a second later, leaving the audience baffled as to which is the illusion. The inclusion of the Fats Waller standard Honeysuckle Rose is particularly clever, hinting as it does at the future influence this rich period of cabaret would have on other cultures.
The physical language here is impressive. Dance styles choreographed with imagination and wit by Alyssa Noble reflect the decades and provide the common thread linking all the stories together. The physical intimacy that the women have with each other throughout is so refreshing and creates an environment where women kissing and falling in love with each other feels true and not gimmicky, despite the context of the underground scene.
And pertinent too, given the current situation in Russia. The pas de deux between two women in Anita Berber’s story was so effective in conveying the journey of the character that the accompanying monologue is almost superfluous.
The writing focuses a little too much on the biography of the women and there is not enough perspective of their quotidian lives. Rosa Luxemburg (Alma Fournier-Carballo), is portrayed so clearly and beautifully for example, we didn’t need to be told her journey prior to the scene.
The reverse striptease brilliantly performed by Gabriella Schmidt, marks one of the few moments of audience interaction during Halbwelt Kultur. One of the main thrusts of cabaret is a dialogue between audience and performer. It something The Ruby Dolls have gradually explored through our own cabaret work and we have found it tough, as it is risky to loosen the reigns and to temporarily give yourself over to the moment, and to whims of that particular crowd.
And perhaps we’re not the only ones, as this is an element missing from this production. The audience are occasionally asked if they were enjoying themselves, but are never really invited to respond back. Despite the direct address of the performers, this lack of follow-through does little to dispel the fourth wall making this production feel more akin to traditional theatre than cabaret
The most moving moment comes from journalist Gabriele Tergit (Julia Cugini) singing the Hollaender number Liar Liar. Her mournful soprano tone provides a different texture to the other songs and as she pleads to keep her delusions in place of the awful truth, there is a palpable sense of the underlying helplessness of the political situation.
The show ends with a reprise of Spoliansky’s Lavender Song in group harmony; a powerful collaboration on which to close this excellent homage to the women of the Weimar Republic.
Halbwelt Kultur continues until 15 December.
Halbwelt Kultur. Directed by Patrick Kennedy. Jermyn Street Theatre, London SW1Y 6ST. Tuesday to Saturday 21:00, Saturday/Sunday matinees 17.00. £18.00 (£15.00 concessions.) www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk
About The Authors
The Ruby Dolls are theatre-makers and cabaret-lovers, songstresses and storytellers. Originally five actresses with a love of close harmony, over the past four years they have evolved into a multi-disciplinary, collaborative theatre company, infusing their stories with the variety and intimacy of cabaret. Their productions draw on their diverse international backgrounds and eclectic music tastes, intertwining Coward with Klezmer, and folk with Baroque. Their productions to date are: Ein Abend Mit Ruby, Rubies In The Attic which premiered at Edinburgh and Rubies In The Smoke which was on at St. James Theatre earlier this year. They are currently devising a new production with an original score which will premiere at Edinburgh Festival 2014. www.therubydolls.com