Cabaret relies on charisma. I could enjoy Lady Rizo’s – by turns raspy and soaring – voice through my headphones on the tube. I would probably laugh at some of her turns of phrase if they were recounted by a friend. I’d certainly appreciate her epic, corseted costumes in photos. But the experience of being in a room with her, watching those dresses unravel as she moves through the audience, feeling the spite emitting from her stamped foot as she covers D’Angelo’s Shit, Damn, Motherfucker.
This particular show is an origin story of sorts for the identity Lady Rizo. Her banter with the audience seems charmingly inconsequential at first but slowly a story emerges. We find out about her loves and her lusts and the transcendent occasions when they intersect and the terrifying times when they diverge. She talks about her hippy upbringing in Oregon but it’s as though she’s referencing a former life her transformation into the intimidatingly glamorous Lady Rizo is so complete that the idea of her having a real and messy childhood is absurd.
Late in the show, I realised that she was unwell. She gestured towards Yair, her understated musical director and accompanist and he played covering music as she turned her back to the audience, coughed and blew her nose. My vantage point was such that I spotted this but it would have been missed by the majority of the crowd. She hadn’t referenced a cold during the show or shown signs of wavering. There is an element of the untouchable to her performance, even as she sits on the laps of her audience, that doesn’t allow for that sort of reality.
Apparently Lady Rizo the act, the ego, was born out of desire. The woman’s desire to perform and the man in her life’s desire to be a part of her when she performed. And the entire show is built on desire. The Lady doesn’t so much desire love from the audience as expect it, but the audience’s desire for her is palpable. In fact, when it comes to the men she interacts with in the crowd, it can border on creepy. But she remains aloof and in control, aware of her effect and revelling in it, inviting it, while simultaneously able to shield herself with her makeup and her microphone and her adopted name.
At the bar beforehand my companion had taken a while buying wine. “Sorry I took so long. The woman working at the bar really, really likes Lady Rizo. She couldn’t really define why or describe the show. She just said I’d love it and kind of…exclaimed a lot”. On the stairs heading down to the recently redecorated Soho Downstairs I heard one member of the front of house staff say to another “I’m so excited I can’t wait to see her again. God, she’s gorgeous”. And now, as we left the theatre, my companion turned to me and said “I’m in love”. When I asked her what she meant, she gestured, then shrugged, then kind of…exclaimed a lot. Which is all I’ve really been able to do as well.