Barry Humphries’s Weimar Cabaret at Barbican Theatre
An ode to pre-Hitler era composers of 1920s and 30s Germany, Barry Humphries’s Weimar Cabaret is a joyous compilation of works from this period, a result of Humphries long-held fascination for a musical culture labelled as “degenerate” by the Third Reich.
Originally discovered by his encounter with scores carried in the luggage of Jewish immigrants escaping the Nazis, this cheeky and charming style of cabaret became Humphries’s passion, in contrast to a world he finds excessively “puritanical”. Highly sexual, and also including themes of love, money and death, these invaluable treasures of lost brilliance are combined here with witty and irreverent banter and anecdotes. The host, stepping away from his famous alter egos Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson, plays himself in this wonderfully subversive, hedonistic, edgy and at times absurd jazz age showcase.
Emcee Humphries presents and performs a fantastic concert that includes cabaret, jazz, tango and vaudeville/Broadway-style show tunes specifically borrowing from Berlin’s Weimar Republic (1919-1933) – together with Australian chanteuse Meow Meow and the Aurora Orchestra. Recreating the world of the Charleston, the flapper, German Expressionism and dark, racy Berlin nightclubs are original numbers – translated from German to English – such as Brecht’s (and Kurt Weill’s) Pirate Jenny (Three Penny Opera) and The Song of Surabaya Johnny. Other composers featured include Ernst Toch, Alfred Grunwald, and Friedrich Hollaender.
Performances in this piece are outstanding, such as a terrific duet by Humphries and Meow Meow: Mousie. Electric, risqué and clever, the showcase is mesmerising, naughty, funny and also very moving in its recreation of singular work salvaged from Nazism, mostly by authors who did not survive the regime.
Concluding with a song written later in 1948 by Hollaender for Marlene Dietrich (Billy Wilder’s movie A Foreign Affair) – the sad but hopeful The Ruins of Berlin, “Amidst the ruins of Berlin trees are in bloom as they have never been…” – this remarkable concert ends on a note of poignant regret but also heartfelt positivity.
Barry Humphries’s Weimar Cabaret is at Barbican Theatre from 11th until 29th July 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.