fri 18/06/2021

La Cage aux Folles [The Play], Park Theatre review - half-cock farce | reviews, news & interviews

La Cage aux Folles [The Play], Park Theatre review - half-cock farce

La Cage aux Folles [The Play], Park Theatre review - half-cock farce

Embarrassing period piece needs a lift from better comic timing than this

Albin (Paul Hunter) plays mother while partner Georges (Michael Matus) looks on aghastAll images by Mark Douet

Not the musical then, worst luck. How timely it would have been to mark Jerry Herman's passing with a celebration of a great achievement. Just how brilliantly the pathos and panache of his score lift Jean Poiret's long-running 1970s farce about a gay couple and their St Tropez drag club having to "straighten up" for family values is only emphasised by this ultimately threadbare adaptation by Simon Callow.

Was the French-Italian film as good as those of us who saw it in the early 1980s remember? Having been surprised by the hilarity of another humanising attempt, The Birdcage, with a laugh-until-you-cry performance from Nathan Lane, I watched the original again and found it really wasn't. Similarly this attempt, raising decent laughs in its first half, freezes them with its casual cruelty and unfocused ensemble in the second.

Park Artistic Director Jez Bond's approach isn't a bad one to begin with. With designer Tim Shortall's very gay sea-view apartment setting the scene, Georges (Michael Matus), Albin (Paul Hunter) and their "maid" Jacob (Syrus Lowe) project impressively in the small space as they consciously deliver to the audience; all they say and do is theatre, which at least means it's not stereotypical Seventies camp. The funniest scene belongs to Mark Cameron's butcher Zorba (pictured below with Lowe), developing a declaration of love for Brueghel the Elder's depiction of meat into a tearful paean to fine art: that's comic timing for you, and his exit won a well-deserved round of applause. Hunter's mug is made for comedy, and Lowe gets to show off a range of RuPaulish runway looks; Matus declaims with appropriate histrionics. Mark Cameron and Syrus Lowe in La Cage aux Folles [The Play]Then, with the arrival of Matus's son Laurent (Arthur Hughes) the uneasiness sets in: can dad give the gay pad a sober makeover and play butch to impress girlfriend's far-right parents? Callow, in a programme interview which oddly fails to acknowledge the original film, knows this is un-PC stuff from a different age when things were really like that. But since dad gives way, the farce depends upon it. You can hear the what-the-hell silences as he betrays who and what he is in front of the potential in-laws. The nasty taste needs to be taken away in cut-glass precision for the dinner party from hell (this is where I cried with laughter at Lane's turn in The Birdcage). But the supporting actors who people the stage in the second act just aren't sharp enough; the projection becomes shoutiness and the whole thing gets bogged down in a mire from which it doesn't extract itself.

It's all the more disappointing after the Park's brilliant handling of what is essentially another gay two-hander, Martin Sherman's Gently Down the Stream. That would have merited a West End transfer; La Cage aux Folles [The Play] doesn't. It took two gay men (Herman and Lane) to humanise a dodgy premise and actually celebrate what's at the core here, a loving 15-year old gay marriage; a third (Callow) simply puts the Folles back in their Cage.

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