I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie


A trip to the theatre was my activity this afternoon. I had been sitting at home watching the The Late Late Toy Show last night, with a half eye on the internet, when an advert for ‘Cabaret’ appeared. It was playing today at the Bord Gais Theatre, across the river.

How could I refuse? I have history with that show.

When I was about eleven, the movie version starring Liza Minnelli, was shown on television, one Friday night. I was captivated.

It was a tale of  a struggling English writer (played by the stunningly beautiful Michael York) and his relationship with a singer Sally Bowles – played by Liza – in a seedy nightclub called the Kit Kat Club in Berlin; in 1931, at the time when Hitler was on the rise, and Berlin was in economic ruin, but still the epicentre of the freewheeling, loose-living alternative world.

I knew about Hitler, and World War 2, but I had no idea about Berlin’s position as the epicentre of the sexual underworld, where boys loved boys. Where jazz music played, and where the encroaching horror didn’t seem real.

I loved the film.

The title song struck a chord with me. It was so defiant, and camp, and carefree. I used to sing it to myself while walking to school thereafter.

‘What use is sitting along in your room. Come hear the music play. Life is a cabaret old chum. Come to the cabaret.’

In hindsight this seems like an obvious clue to my glorious future as gay boy – twelve year old me humming Liza Minnelli to myself, on the way to school.  I doubt the hurling team shared this hobby of mine.

Years later I read ‘The Berlin Stories’ by Christopher Isherwood about his two year sojourn in Berlin, as a struggling, closeted writer, seeking freedom, as Nazism was on the rise. These books were the source material for the film.

I also discovered that the 1972 film, was one of the first Hollywood films that didn’t treat homosexuality as inherently deviant. It was just treated as part of the tapestry of life.

My gaydar was clearly working when I was twelve, even before I knew that I was myself, one of the outcasts. The attraction I felt towards that grimy, dicey, fabulous world is understandable now, many years later.

So today I hauled myself to the show. At the box office, I demanded the cheapest seat in the house, way up in the Upper Circle (knowing that as it was a matinee, I’d get an automatic upgrade to a far better stall seat). So it came to pass.

It was astounding.

Starring Louise Redknapp and Will Young (both of whom were incredible), it was the touring version of the West End show.

The beautiful set, the mesmerising Kander and Ebb songs, the utter razzmatazz, all enthralled me.

Underlined all the time, by the chilling reality of the era in which it was set.

Watching beautiful, half naked men and women, running about the stage, oblivious to the coming horror, is a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon, in the depths of winter.

Possibly the best big stage musical I have ever seen.





1 thought on “I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s