Pros: Rendezvous is inventive and immersive, with catchy songs and great performances.
Cons: The comic interludes can be frustrating, as they distract from an otherwise compelling story.
Laughter is a powerful response to oppression. Comedy has a long history of speaking truth to power, and cabaret is no different. Czechoslovakia, a country that endured both Nazi and Soviet rule, had plenty of horrors to contend with, particularly for the Jewish population. But for one cabaret writer, plenty to laugh at as well.
Rendezvous in Bratislava tells the story of Ján Ladislav Kalina, a wildly prolific dramatist and writer, who serves as both subject and inspiration for the show. Narrated and performed by his granddaughter, Miriam Sherwood, Rendezvous combines original music, comedy and social history to explore 20th century Czechoslovakia, and the remarkable life of Kalina.
As suggested by its title, setting is essential to Rendezvous. The production is highly immersive, and quickly introduces its audience to the world of Czechoslovakian cabaret with a night-club environment of candlelit tables, two central performers who are more hosts than actors, and a laidback, bawdy atmosphere, helped in no small part by an offering of shots.
Miriam Sherwood is charming company, as is her co-star, Thom Andrewes, who sings many of the songs. While Sherwood does a fine job of relating her grandfather’s incredible exploits as a writer, the music very often tells the tale, and the compositions of Andrewes and Will Gardner are fun, catchy, and sometimes deeply affecting. One particular highlight is a jaunty song about Czech socialism, which is still stuck in this reviewer’s head.
On a technical level, Rendezvous deserves praise for its inventive use of media, projections and delightful period design. Great effort has clearly gone into the presentation of the space, which has undergone a dual transformation into both night-club and living room, complete with furniture and effects befitting Kalina.
Not everything works as well as it should. The production is punctuated by interludes of the one-liner jokes that would be common to a cabaret performance. While these may be intentionally groan-inducing, they sometimes feel unnecessary, particularly with a story as interesting as Kalina’s, and a storyteller as captivating as Sherwood.
Rendezvous in Bratislava is a fine show. Informative and entertaining, the production celebrates and honours a man whose story deserves to be better-known, particularly now. With the state of the world as bleak as it is, perhaps laughter may still be the best medicine.
Written and directed by: Miriam Sherwood
Produced by: Christina Poulton
Box Office: 020 7223 2223
Booking Link: https://www.bac.org.uk/content/42679/whats_on/whats_on/shows/rendezvous_in_bratislava
Booking Until: 24th November 2018