This is how this award-winning show, The Reichstag Is Burning, is described:
A national emergency is declared. Civil liberties are restricted. Theatres and nightclubs – intellectual, artistic havens – are closing. A chanteuse takes to a smoky stage in musical defiance. A postmodern cabaret for a world on fire, inspired by the Weimar Kabarett tradition.
The absolute genius of this show is that Joanne Hartstone doesn’t try to recreate “Cabaret”, nor does she try to create one realistic night in Die Katakombe (The Catacombs), a political-literary cabaret in Berlin that was founded by, among others, the comedian, actor, and author, Werner Finck.
Instead, through an inventive song list, evocative lighting (perfection perfection Tom Kitney for direction and design), and sublime acting and singing, Hartstone charts the descent of the German spirit from surviving in a chaotic democracy to being plunged into the hell of a fear-ridden dictatorship.
With her shoulder-length blonde hair, various hats, and kabarett-inspired costumes of leather, lace, and pinstripes, Hartstone performs a diverse repertoire of songs; some with new lyrics (Where Do I Begin?) and some in new and haunting contexts (Total Control).
And it’s clever. Everything about this production has been meticulously planned and executed, from Hartstones choreography and performance to the show’s lighting, sound, and stage management.
The format of the show is a procession of songs served between narrations (both spoken by Michael Morley as Werner Finck, and written in projections), aligning each song with a landmark moment in Hitler’s rise to power and the quashing of all opposition and free thought.
The arc of this show is enables us to witness and feel the gradual erosion of defiance to one of defeat, dread, and warning.
Some highlights included I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire, for its perfect juxtaposition of human yearning and love against a tyrant’s destruction, When That Man Is Dead And Gone for matching our despairing sentiments towards the impotent and smouldering Trump and the violent and cold Putin, and Wicked Game for unearthing and unlocking the deeper darker tones intrinsic in the song but hitherto never fully realised.
Hartstone’s character, Iris London, notes that democracy is not a given. And those of us watching on as Vladimir Putin crushes Ukraine with the same selfish, bitter, deluded zeal that fuelled Hitler, adds extra gravitas to London’s comment. Likewise, when we are reminded of Anne Frank’s words that although what’s been done cannot be undone we can always prevent it happening again, we glimpse our current horrors anew and sense rage at the spineless, vacillating resistance the western world is implementing against a war-mongering Russia.
Sadly, this show is timeless. Triumphantly, this show bedazzles on the screen.