'I get to color with all the crayons in the coloring box playing this role': John Partridge on his role of Emcee in 'Cabaret'

Ahead of the Dublin run of Cabaret at the Bord Gáis, Emcee John Partridge talks theatre and politics, as told to Katie Donohoe.

Emcee Cabaret

The premise of the show focuses around a young writer, whose name is Cliff Bradshaw who comes to Berlin, to find something to write about having previously been in both London and Paris. On arrival in Berlin, he meets a nightclub entertainer, called Sally Bowles, who works in the Kit Kat Club, of where I am the Emcee. The Emcee really is a metaphor for the wider political landscape of Weimar, Germany in the late 20s, early 30s. You only ever see the character of the Emcee in the Kit Kat Klub and so really, I am a figment of your imagination, am I real, am I not. It is my job to hold a mirror up to the audience to reflect what has happened on stage and also a view of what they have just seen; Cabaret deals with incredibly powerful themes.

As we see our own political landscape fractured right now, with the rise of Trump, Farage, Marine Le Pen, Brexit, antisemitism within the Labour Party, it is an incredibly exciting time to take Cabaret around the UK and internationally to see how audiences react to the themes in this show. It is amazing to me that a show that was written 60 years ago, seems to be as provocative and as prolific now, as it was then, if not more so.

Emcee is a showman, he’s an orator. I am there to inform, educate, and in some ways ridicule the audience for their responses to what it is they are seeing, and to really ask them to think about the choices that they make as humans. I get to color with all the crayons, in the coloring box, playing this role, I get to be vulnerable, I get to be brutal, I get to be outrageous, I get to be kind; all the things I wish to be in my normal life in some ways you can’t be a lot of the time, but it’s a gift of a role.

I get to be vulnerable, I get to be brutal, I get to be outrageous, I get to be kind

I am honoured that I have the opportunity to play in a show like this when you take on an iconic role like this, people always ask you know “are you not worried about taking on something like this” but in my view, I am merely a caretaker. So it is my job to sort of preserve it and to honour it and to keep it safe until I hand it over to the next person to look after it because that’s the responsibility you have in recreating a classic like this.

I think Bruce Norris, did the most amazing job in pushing Cabaret forward and pushing these themes forward and keeping the conversation going about something that happened a long time ago, that we should never forget. I think we all need to respond to what is happening politically. I think everybody does. I don’t think art should be left out of that. Of course, art is also there as escapism and fantasy, and relief, but it is also there to inform and educate and to question. I think that’s what we all should be doing and we all should expect.

I don’t think we can be passive in anything anymore unless we choose to be. So yes, my answer to that would be yes, we live in incredibly fractious times, and we seem to have this ability to ignore, to allow things to wash over us to complain within social media platforms, but yet to walk out of our front door and allow things to happen that outrage us, but we are somehow actively passive.

It’s something that I don’t understand. I cannot understand. We seem to want to secularise and ringfence ourselves off from each other. I am British, my mother Irish, my father is Scottish, my husband is Canadian and Greek. I lived in Berlin for ten years; I’ve worked in Zurich extensively.

I cannot understand the notion that we should close our borders and protect “our own”, I find it depressing at best and frightening at worst. All I can do is to try to find projects now that speak to me both personally and politically because that’s the only voice that I have. I feel that Cabaret is a show that does that.

There’s a lot of makeup involved in this show sometimes when you have one of these heavy makeup shows it does allow you the time to sit with yourself and be transformative. That’s what putting on somebody else’s cloak allows you to do. The time it takes to become that person is my alone time with that character. So I say goodbye to myself within that time and embrace somebody else.

I’m very lucky with this company that everybody is very driven to tell this story. Everybody collectively works together in order to create this world, because in a show like this, it is a collaboration and it requires everybody to pull in the same direction. You know, no matter how much I prepare, if you’re the only one it doesn’t have the same effect and it certainly doesn’t keep you where you need to be.

We are gifted with having a very connected company to tell this story and it makes me incredibly proud. I must stress we have probably the most good looking, fit, agile, charismatic group of young people and semi-nude because that’s always good for selling a few tickets. A little bit of nudity I find in a production goes a very long way.

It is a very much a team effort in this show. And I wish to nod my cap to every single one of my colleagues who goes above and beyond to to tell the story, I’ve been doing this a long time, and it’s not always the case, I’m going to let you know.

I am by birth and DNA rather animated, so I find theatre very natural.

Theatre and film are very, very different mediums. I have lived on stage, most of my life. I started working professionally in the West End at 16 in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, and I’m 48 now, so I’ve been doing this for 32 years, (God how did that happen!) but I have, and in some ways, it’s where I am most comfortable. It’s where I am most at home because it’s something I’ve grown up with. So I find being on stage a very naturalistic way of performing.

I am by birth and DNA rather animated, so I find theatre very natural. With television, I feel like I’ve got a botox my entire body and like, pull it all down and make it very, very small and that is not a natural way for me to perform.

I like the instant gratification in theater, you walk out to the stage and you know pretty much 10-20 minutes in whether that audience is for you or against you, and you know exactly what you have to do in order to get them on the side or some cases not.

To get the result that you want and also if that result isn’t what you want, it’s gone and you know, the next day, you get to do it again, and you get to put it right.

With TV and film, you do something they don’t see it for 3, 6, 12 months after that, and by the time that comes around, you’ve already moved on to something else. It’s very, very, very different ways of working, but nonetheless, I enjoy them both equally, I guess for different reasons.

What’s my favourite musical? That’s an unanswerable question. They are all my babies and I love them all equally, never have a favorite child.

I could attach joy and sorrow to each of these occasions all individually.

If you’re lucky, things come around in your career at the right time to enrich your life, to reward your life or to help you through something. Like I say I’ve been doing this a long time and through my career I’ve had professional and personal highs and lows. I could attach joy and sorrow to each of these occasions all individually.

I very much now try to live in the moment and appreciate the now and so you know, I’m enjoying this role immensely. It’s a role that I’ve always wanted to play; I don’t have many bucket list roles. I didn’t in my earlier career because that was not how I lived. I’m older now, and there were things I want to get in before it’s gone if you know what I mean.

So I’m very grateful to be playing this role here and now and I’m very grateful to where I am in my personal life now so when this part came along I actively petitioned Bill for the role.

I’ve worked with Bill Kenwright for a while now so I was like “okay, fella, I’ve worked with you a couple of times now I know Cabaret is going back on the road. Will Young has been hogging it for the last couple of years. I think you should give me a shot.” And I’m delighted to say that he agreed.

If you are not a fan of musicals, and many people aren’t, you know, God who are they, I don’t know.

But there are a lot of people who go “I can’t bear this, I can’t bear going to see a musical”. This production, it would be for you because although, you know, it has the amazing Kander and Ebb score with all these songs: ‘Maybe this Time’, ‘Life is a Cabaret’, ‘Money’, ‘I Don’t Care Much’.

The book on its own and the play is so strong, without all the music. This show isn’t a happy musical in the sense that you know, ‘everything’s all right in the end’. We don’t go into ‘happily ever after’ in this show. It is very real in that way. It’s a very realistic musical. So I would urge you if you are not a fan of musicals to suspend that notion, for two and a half hours and come and see us because I think you may be surprised and I guarantee you, you would have a good time. You would at least leave the theatre having something to think about.

John Partridge plays the Emcee in Cabaret at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from 01 – 05 OCTOBER 2019. Tickets on sale through Ticketmaster now!

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