Too much farce and not enough affection in this staging of the French classic La Cage aux Folles.
The original La Cage aux Folles play premiered in Paris in 1973. It was made into a French language film with two sequels then in 1983 into a Broadway Musical followed by a Hollywood film – ‘The Birdcage’ – in 1996.
This staging at the Park Theatre is a translation of the original French play. The actor Simon Callow, a fluent French speaker, has taken on the role of translator and adapter for this production. Mr Callow was in attendance for the press night, leading a starry audience including Sir Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry, Derek Jacobi and John Sessions.
Set in St Tropez in 1973, the lead characters, George and Albin, own and live above a drag club, where Albin is the temperamental star performer. An early dalliance of George’s resulted in a son, Laurent who has been brought up by George and Albin with minimal contact with his mother, an ex-dancer, now business tycoon. Laurent has recently got engaged to Muriel who comes from a very strict, conservative family, headed by Monsieur Priedieu who is standing for election on a moral ticket with a plan to “clean up” the clubs of St Tropez.
Laurent arrives at his father’s apartment to announce the imminent arrival of the Priedieu family for a visit and asks his father to send Albin away, call his mother to attend dinner and present a straight family unit and household to his prospective in-laws. The various challenges and mix ups of this scenario are the meat of the play.
Tim Shortall has done a great job with the design. The relatively small stage is used to good effect for the apartment, with a door at the back opening on to the “stairs” down to the nightclub allowing various characters to appear at inopportune moments. In the first act, the apartment is flamboyantly decorated, then after the interval we return to find the set piously straightened as the family welcome Muriel and her parents.
Having seen La Cage aux Folles in various stage and screen versions, I found this production to lack a little of the warmth and heart at the centre of the story. The bickering relationship of George and Albin is built on the familiarity of years together but in this staging, they just seem to dislike each other.
Laurent played by Arthur Hughes is deeply unsympathetic. He is supposed to be torn between the world of his upbringing and the world inhabited by the woman he loves. His manner in asking his father to help him and send Albin away is unpleasant; it is a surprise that George chooses to assist him rather than send him away with a stiletto heel somewhere painful!
The cast, led by Michael Matus as George and Paul Hunter as Albin, play it for laughs, particularly Syrus Low who takes on the best role in the play as Jacob, the maid cum butler and hams it up for all he is worth.
This is a funny production, well-staged and performed but lacks any real heart.
Reviewed by Emma Heath
Photo: Mark Douet