Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Shaw Festival Review: ‘Cabaret’ Takes a New Direction

Peter Hinton’s ‘Cabaret’ introduces modern audiences to a history they may be unfamiliar with.

By: Hermine Steinberg

Published: June 19th, 2014 in Culture » Stage » Reviews

Gustav Stresemann, who died before the Stock Market Crash that devastated Germany, knew that their inter-war Golden Era was superficial. Political and economic instability permeated the shaky foundation of the brief cultural renaissance that attracted intellectuals and party goers from around the world to cosmopolitan and decadent Berlin. He said “Germany is in fact dancing on a volcano.” And when Germany was once again shattered, desperation built, fracturing lives and creating deep fissures in the social fabric that had been previously so tightly woven. Confusion, fear, and alienation followed, leaving the German people vulnerable to false Gods and evil tricksters. This was the shadowy landscape of 1931 Berlin where ‘Cabaret’ takes place and Peter Hinton directs his grotesque red spotlight.

‘Cabaret’ is a cautionary tale created nearly half a century ago when most of the people in the audience had personal knowledge of World War Two and The Great Depression. Today, most of the world’s population either don’t know what the Holocaust is or deny it. Most Canadians know little about history and many young people don’t watch the news or have an interest in politics. Although the themes of disillusionment, extremism, insecurity, and willful blindness are as relevant today as the era about which the story is based, the question is how to convey the lessons of the past in a way that resonates with a modern audience. Peter Hinton’s answer is to translate the metaphor of the ‘Cabaret’ to the visual language that has emerged in this age of multimedia. Communication by image speaks to us on an emotional level. Complex themes are conveyed to us in a way that immediately creates personal meaning without having to know the facts or details of any situation. That is why the horror genre has gained such popularity; zombies, witches, and vampires filling our screens. They directly speak to our fear of an uncertain future, our feelings of powerlessness, and our fears of what may lie in the dark. In the same way, Peter Hinton masterfully executes his vision of Cabaret, creating a visceral experience that conveys the desperate search for meaning and happiness in a country beaten down by financial ruin, international humiliation, and the ravages of war. The struggle for survival and renewal leads a nation down the road to hell, a nightmarish journey that diminishes everyone in its wake.

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