Scenes of Vienna: Time Machine

The magic of a masked ball and cabaret at the Volkstheater’s Rote Bar

Pushing through the double doors onto the balcony of the Volkstheater, I pulled a pack of cigarettes from my pocket and fished for my lighter. Despite the bracing wind, I leaned out against the wide balustrade. The world was at my feet, a vast widescreen view stretching over the -Museums Quartier from Getriedemarkt to Bellariastrasse, and far across to the shadowy green of the Burggarten in the distance.

Faces hidden under hat and mask were streaming up out of the U-Bahn towards the entryway directly beneath, as others pushed through the flow, scurrying away towards the dark alleys of Spittelberg. Headlights and brake lights stopped and started, fogged by clouds from the hot exhausts, hanging like icy breath in the night air.

(c)Monoandmore1Dressed to impress

I shuddered, as another chill cut through me; it was January 16th, and a particularly cold tonight – especially as, for the third time, my jacket had been purloined by someone who claimed she needed it more than I did. With relief we stepped back into the warmth of the Volkstheater’s Rote Bar. It was a ‘Cirque Rouge’ cabaret evening, the theme for the night, a Masked Ball – dress-code 1920s to 50s and very easy on the eye.

Heading back past the plush velvet curtains, it was just possible to slither between the backs of two gents in pin stripes and wide lapels, easily mistaken for the cast of Boardwalk Empire. Voices and accents of English and German bubbled up through the crowd, as we topped up at the serpentine bar, and slid back into the crowd, gazing up at the grand chandelier poised gracefully above the costumed partygoers.

“Have you ever seen anything like this?” I heard over the buzz, a question that had also occurred to me. But there was no time to ponder that now, as the curtains between two elegant pillars parted, and the famous opening “Willkommen, Bienvenue…Welcome,” from the John Kander-Fred Ebb musical Cabaret filled the room. A slick-haired MC took command. The crowd went wild; I felt a wash of voyeuristic guilt creep over me as I slid passed the tightly packed onlookers.

It was hard to see the stage, through the crowd. A rumble of discontent – then some hopped up on the tables, three or four hats disappeared, and suddenly all were enchanted by the glamorous show.  It was Berlin, 1925, live, within a few feet of our noses…  but for the jarring camera phones held aloft to capture the action.

By the time the sparkling undergarments had finally danced off stage and the last peacock feathers slithered between the curtains, the futuristic gadgets vanished safely back inside pin-striped pockets and clutch bags. The atmosphere remained as the rich sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and Count Basie lured everyone to the dance floor.

“Of course, this is Vienna,” I remembered, as couple after couple broke out well-oiled dance routines. A few forlorn onlookers were left struggling to convince their partners to join in; the wee hours were well on their way by the time the chairs start to fill up once again.

As the night reached its natural conclusion, we descended the long stairs leading us back out into the brisk morning air. A “Tschüss” floated after us as we passed still more grand hats and canes. I longed for a limo to chauffeur us past pop-art billboards and brilliant neon signs.  But alas no, only a line of Prius taxis awaited to bring us all back to reality once again.

Through our last cigarettes and parting goodbyes, an arresting image lingered of people in fur collars, feathered masks and flapper dresses climbing into muddy yellow electric-hybrids.

“A new take on film noir,” I wonder? No. There’s nothing to improve on this.


Cirque Rouge – Volkstheater

Tom Middler
Tom Middler
Tom Middler came to Vienna in 2014 when he realized that as a freelance actor and writer, he didn't have to ask a responsible adult's permission to move to the world's "Most Livable City." You can regularly find him on stage with Open House Theatre, writing at his desk (mainly about all things sporting) or sipping a cold beer at Clash.

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