So, you’ve gone and done it. You’ve met the love of your life, wined and dined them and finally proposed. They’ve accepted and now it’s time to think about the wedding preparations. But before the big day itself, something else needs to happen. The two sets of parents need to meet. A daunting enough experience for any young couple, but if the respective families come from very differing backgrounds, then the problems can really mount. Welcome to the first English version of La Cage aux Folles (The Play) at the Park Theatre.
Georges (Michael Matus) and Albin (Paul Hunter) are a fairly normal couple living in Saint Tropez. Well, normal may not be the ‘mot juste’. George is the owner of a nightclub called, La Cage aux Folles, and his partner Albin, is Madame Zaza, the star of the club’s cabaret. George loves his business, even if he is continually bothered by his Stage Manager Frances (William Nelson) and Business Manager Tabaro (Peter Straker) bringing him problems. He and Albin, live happily together in an apartment above the club, being looked after by their ‘maid’ Jacob (Syrus Lowe). However, their peaceful little world is about to be shattered as Georges son Laurent (Arthur Hughes) has announced that he is going to be married to Muriel (Georgina Ambrey), only daughter of right-wing, conservative with a capital ‘C’, politician Monsieur Priedieu (Simon Hepworth). Laurent wants his future in-laws – Monsieur and Madame Priedieu (Louise Bangay) to meet his father and, much to everyone’s shock, his mother Simone (Sarah Lam).
The first thing to say is that the title is completely accurate. Do not go to La Cage aux Folles (The Play) expecting to see high kicking sequined Cagelles or to sing along to “I am What I Am”. No, this is a translation of the original 1973 French farce by Jean Poiret and there is not a song to be heard throughout. When the play was originally produced the idea of a far-right family meeting with a gay couple to celebrate the engagement of their offspring must have been quite shocking. Personally, I’m not so sure that the shockability factor is as relevant today.
Simion Callow has adapted the play from French to English in fine style on the whole and the play is really funny in places. The problem for me is that I believe the essence of the play is the relationship between the three men, Georges, Albin and Laurent. Georges and Albin are two men who have been together for years. They may snipe and fight but their devotion is plain to see. As is Albin’s love for George’s son. I’m not sure I felt the ultimate strength of these relationships in this production. George and Albin seem to fight like cat and dog, while Laurent really seemed to dismiss Albin, and, unlike every other version of this show I’ve seen, Laurent is not redeemed at the end by his realisation of the love and care he had received growing up from his surrogate ‘mother’.
Performance-wise, the show has a lot of highlights including my absolute favourite scene when Mark Cameron’s butcher Zorba goes from explaining how to cook a joint of meat, in a very masculine way, to the declaration of love for art fine art and especially Brueghel the Elder’s depiction of meat. A truly outstanding performance that earned Mark a huge round of applause following his exit. Additionally, you can’t mention the cast without a huge round of applause to Syrus Lowe for his wonderfully over the top performance as Jacob. From his first appearance wearing very little but wearing it well to the final moments, Syrus nearly steals the show as Jacob contends with being straight, wearing flat shoes and having his ambitions dashed by the heartless George.
The two leads Michael Matus and Paul Hunter as Georges and Albin are good and, as the comedy steps up in the second act, get more manic by the moment. There were times when it felt to me that Michael was channeling an inner Basil Fawlty in his reactions and posture. As Zaza, in full drag, Paul looks stunning – and full credit to Set and Costume designer Tim Shortall for not only the drag queens gowns but the overall very 1970’s costumes and the lovely set. Speaking of which, another round of applause for the stage crew who, during the interval, completely de-gay the apartment and turn it into something that could be used as a monastery dining room.
Director Jez Bond really keeps the cast on their toes and makes great use of the large stage area. I did think the breaking of the fourth wall in places – including taking a seat next to an audience member – was an unnecessary touch added more for comic effect than for any other reason. However, I’m not an aficionado of French farce and this may be something that happens in their form of the style.
Overall, there is a lot to like about La Cage aux Folles (The Play). It is well-written and staged and very funny in places. But, and this may be because I am familiar with the later versions, movies and the musical, the show really didn’t grab and hold me in the way I had hoped. I had real trouble connecting with the characters themselves and, at the end found I waved goodbye feeling a little letdown.
Review by Terry Eastham
Nightclub owner Georges and his dazzling drag artiste partner Albin create the most spectacular shows in St. Tropez. But when Georges’ son Laurent announces his engagement to the daughter of a notoriously right-wing politician determined to bring the curtain down on the town’s vibrant nightlife, the real performance begins.
As Georges and Albin entertain their soon-to-be in-laws and attempt to conceal their true nature for the sake of their son, how long can the façade last?
Park Theatre and Adam Blanshay Productions present the English Language World Premiere of
La Cage aux Folles [The Play]
By Jean Poiret
A new translation by Simon Callow
Directed by Jez Bond
Cast includes Michael Matus, Paul Hunter, Georgina Ambrey, Louise Bangay, Mark Cameron, Simon Hepworth, Arthur Hughes, Sarah Lam, Syrus Lowe, Peter Straker and William Nelson.
Supported by Park Theatre’s Producers Circle
12 Feb – 21 Mar 2020