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The Theatreguide.London Review

Effigies of Wickedness!
Gate Theatre  Spring 2018

Part recital, part cabaret, this collection of songs banned by the Nazis in the 1920s and 1930s is at its best when it just delivers the music and doesn't try too hard to be clever. 

The fourteen songs performed here were all banned in Germany for being too political, too decadent or too Jewish. 

They range from the innocuous (the Spoliansky-Schiffer love song Tonight Or Never), through the 'decadently' comic (Hollaender's Marlene Dietrich parody Sex Appeal) to the openly challenging (the Eisler-Brecht Abortion Is Illegal, a dialogue between a desperately poor woman and her unfeeling doctor). 

In this collaboration between the Gate and the English National Opera three of the four singers are operatically-trained, two of the four (a bit of overlap there) cabaret-experienced. 

Director Ellen McDougall hasn't fully papered over the cracks between the different styles, so that, for example, the straight singing of Peter Brathwaite (who also conceived of and generated the project) and the broad comedy of Lucy McCormick sometimes sit uneasily side by side. 

Somewhere in between lie the different-from-each-other mixes of opera and joking by Katie Bray and the bearded drag performer Le Gateau Chocolat. 

Lucy McCormick carries much of the weight of tone-setting and comic links, bringing an appealing tone of mad-eyed weirdness to her performance, but also letting us see all the hard work of being funny and thus weakening the fun. 

A much more assured cabaret performer, Le Gateau Chocolat can be funny without seeming to raise a sweat and is therefore much funnier, and he also repeatedly surprises and delights with the unexpected power and beauty of his singing.

Peter Brathwaite and Katie Bray are somewhat underused, though each gets at least one strong solo. 

Few, if any, of the songs here leave the impression of lost masterpieces. They were routinely churned-out reflections of a particular time and place, and the programme is more effective as a picture of an age than as a rediscovery of individual pieces. 

And Effigies of Wickedness is at its best when it just lets the songs build up that picture and doesn't get in their way by working so hard at gilding the lilies.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Effigies of Wickedness - Gate Theatre 2018


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