Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023 Theatre Review: Fabulett 1933 (Underbelly Bristo Square) ★★

Written and performed by Michael Trauffer, Fabulett 1933 invites the audience to join him in a pre-war Berin cabaret club. A vital exploration of queer history, this is an important piece, created and presented with sincerity and heart.

Michael Trauffer in Fabulett 1933. Photo credit: Georgina Bolton King.

Starting with some archival footage, and introduced by our endearing host, Trauffer sets the scene. It is the 28th February 1933, the last night of the Fabulett, following an order from the new German leadership that all venues that “promote immorality” must close. As the club’s emcee, Felix is faced with the loss of the only place he has ever felt able to be his authentic self.

In a fascinating, often surprising historical précis, Felix recounts the ways in which Germany was at the forefront of gender recognition between the two world wards. In 1919, what is believed to be the first pro-gay film, Anders als die Andern was released. “Das Lila Lied” (The Lavender Song), which features in the production, was written in 1920, recognised as one of the world’s first gay anthems. Dr Magnus Hirschfeld, the “Einstein of sex”, ran the Institute for Sexual Science, which focused on research around trans issues, and as a result of his work, people who had undergone gender confirmation surgery were issued certificates, protecting them from arrest or prosecution. In 1921, following a decision by the Prussian Ministry of the Interior, it became possible to take new gender-specific or gender-neutral names.

Michael Trauffer in Fabulett 1933. Photo credit: Georgina Bolton King.

These elements of Fabulett 1933 make it an educational, crucial piece of theatre. The wider political context around policing of gender and sexuality, and of the impact of the rise of fascism on LGBTQ+ rights, is incredibly relevant and worryingly prescient. Where it is less successful, however, is in the actual cabaret setting. Trauffer’s vocals are not quite up to the task, and the repartee he has with pianist James Hall is often clunky. He certainly looks the part – magnetic and with exceptional presence – but the narrative lacks the sincerity that he clearly intends. Perhaps this was a bad night, because the concept and the intention of the piece are fully realised, if not well presented.

Trauffer is an adept storyteller, but the emotive and musical aspects of the show were less successful, and it perhaps would have benefitted from more of the former and less of the latter. Despite its flaws, however, there is no doubting the importance of Fabulett 1933, and in its creator’s fervent hope for the world to learn from its past.

By Deborah Klayman

Fabulett 1933 plays at Underbelly Bristo Square, Edinburgh until 27th August 2023.

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