Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret Review

Barbican Theatre – until 29 July

Reviewed by Judith Black

4****

It is said that the ripple from a butterfly’s wing will have an irredeemable effect on the far side of the world.

And so it is that I find myself in the Barbican as a consequence of a visit, six decades ago, to a second-hand bookshop in Melbourne, by the schoolboy Barry Humphries.

An impulse purchase of a stack of sheet music in an old case, moved the musically illiterate Humphries to decode his find. The result, finally is Weimar Cabaret, here, now, in 21st century London.

Playing ‘himself’ for a change, the notoriously chameleonic and hilarious Humphries, at one point in silk pyjamas, meshed personal memories with fascinating revelations from the Weimar era; the history, the composers and their lives.

This captured trove of music from Weimar Germany — an experimental mix of jazz and classical — reveals itself to be an invigoratingly energetic combination of the thrilling and original; symbolic of a time of frivolity, artistic freedom and appreciation.

Featured composers range from the relatively well-known Hindemith and Weill, to the more obscure Paul Abraham, Jaroslav Ježek and Wilhelm Grosz.

All of this is illustrated by the rich and versatile vocal performance of cabaret artist Meow Meow, accompanied by the excellent Aurora Orchestra, on a range of instruments from banjo to 1726 Stradivarius. Musical director, Satu Vänskä, on violin and vocals was outstanding. A particular highlight was Meow Meow’s interpretation of Schulhoff’s Sonata Erotica [1919] a vocal orgasm, if you like.

Giving us comedy, history, music and cabaret, the now elder-statesman Humphries hosts yet another perfect night’s entertainment.

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