Burlesque. Colourful. Madness. Non-traditional. These are just some of the words that came to my mind as I took my seat and looked at the stage. Before anything had even happened I knew that I was going to be in for a very different type of performance.
At all times I was entertained, having a good time and engaged
Effigies of Wickedness is the first collaboration between the English National Opera and the Gate Theatre and pulls together a range of songs previously banned by the Nazis in Germany back in the 1920s and 1930s. Music made by Jewish people, black people or as they aptly termed it “Negermusik” (Negro Music) or music considered to be “un-German” was censored from the German public and forbidden from being enjoyed in any form.
In this modern day show all of this music that was once banned has been brought together in a wide array of cabaret, musical theatre, and opera to showcase the beauty and delight of these otherwise forgotten songs. The bright and playful showmanship from all of the main cast, especially from the two cabaret veterans, Le Gateau Chocolat [read interview] and Lucy McCormick, entertained me and alongside the operatic expertise from opera singers, Peter Brathwaite and Katie Bray I was very impressed with the enthusiasm and energy from these beautiful people. Songs that were once crimes to listen to were brought back to life with such pizzazz and glamour it was marvellously entertaining.
The idea for the show came from classically trained opera performer, Peter Brathwaite, who not only sings like a dream but also in German and with such power and spirit that lifted all of these forgotten songs out of the darkness of their past and brings them back to life in a present day corner of trendy London.
As entertainingly hilarious as the drag cabaret element of the show is it also takes you on an emotional journey, not too deep I must say but there is an element of dark emotion that reared its head from time to time as the show danced from the four performers opening number the “Lavender Song”, a wonderful 1920s tune with lyrics that perfectly reflected this slice of contemporary queer cabaret – “We are the bugs that grow a little different”.
As entertainingly hilarious as the drag cabaret element of the show is it also takes you on an emotional journey
There is an element of a history lesson throughout this show and you will come out knowing a lot more about the cultural and musical state of Nazi occupied Germany than you may have wanted to going in, but it’s worth it I promise. History is always so surprising as it shows us just how much things change and also how worryingly some things stay the same. Lucy McCormick’s rendition of the song “Paragraph 218 (Abortion is illegal)” is intensely moving, the 1929 Brecht/Eisler song in which a poor, pregnant girl argues with a doctor about her options and is told “You’re going to be a lovely little mother/You’re going to make a lump of cannon fodder.” Modern day issues in the USA and Ireland over reproductive rights sprang to my mind as I listened to this.
All of the darker songs are quite devastating in their mounting effect and creep up on you just as you’ve managed to get over the shock of an exposed nipple, cackle at the bawdy jokes onstage, and gasp at the up close and personal sight of Le Gateau Chocolat’s posterior as the beautiful, bearded baritone-diva sashays past your seat, (smelling divine by the way). His arresting rendition of a vision of a fair Germany was achingly gorgeous and sad with the chorus that keeps calling him “liar, liar, liar”. Katie Bray’s vocally awesome ballad towards the end of the production brought a tear to my eyes, her voice is outstanding and the raw emotion was just entrancing, as I sat directly in front of her I could see the glimmer of emotion in her eyes, it was all so stunning.
There were times where I felt like I was sitting in on a dress rehearsal or backstage in a drag show’s dressing room and there were other times when the performance was so untraditional it was just messy. But at all times I was entertained, having a good time and engaged and really that is what art, music and theatre is about – a jolly good adult night out.