Review: Barry Humphries' Weimar Cabaret

Don't miss this entrancing evening, says Stephen Pollard


I could make this easy, and short. How about a two-word review? “Just go”.

Honestly, in over four decades of theatre- and concert-going I can count on one hand the number of evenings that have moved, excited, entranced, informed and thrilled me even half as much as this wonderfully unique, quasi-cabaret at the Barbican.

Barry Humphries begins by telling us how, trawling through a second-hand bookstore in Melbourne in the late 1940s, he came across a stack of sheet music published by the Viennese publishers, Universal Edition.

All the composers were a mystery to him. And so, as a curious child, he bought the lot.

The story of how Barry Humphries came to be obsessed with composers from the Weimar Republic forms the spine of this wonderful evening. Humphries recalls how he had no idea of what antisemitism was, let alone its impact in Germany, until he started to delve into what lay behind his treasure trove.

And it stayed with him. As he writes in the programme: “When I first went to Vienna in the early 1960s, I asked in the best classical record shop if they had any recordings by the composers I had discovered. Not only did they not have recordings but they had never heard of the composers I mentioned. Hitler, it seemed, had done a very good job in suppressing a whole generation of music makers whose exciting work is still in the category of unfamiliar repertoire.”

Today, some of the names Kurt Weill and Erich Korngold, for example are no longer a mystery. But many remain so: Jezek, Spoliansky, Toch, Schulhoff, Brand, to name but five.

The poignancy of the evening lies in discovering their fate. Spoliansky fled to London and, by a fluke, Humphries happened to stop outside a door in Mayfair, saw the name on the buzzer, wondered if the flat belonged to a relative of the composer, pressed and discovered the man himself. Others were murdered by the Nazis.

But this is as far from a history lesson as you can imagine. Combining with the magnetic Meow Meow (right) an Australian cabaret artist possessed of fabulous comic timing and the ability to hold a stage alone, as well as a perfect voice for the genre — and the Aurora Orchestra, this is also sheer brilliant entertainment.

The promoters are also to be praised for a superbly informative programme.

The show runs until July 29. Do yourself a big favour and go.


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