FringeReview UK 2017
La Cage aux Folles comes to Brighton’s Theatre Royal in this revival by Bill Kenwright Productions directed by Martin Connor Gary McCann made as much use of the necessarily flexible touring space with backdrops and very glitzy pink and silver champagne steps. McCann is responsible for costumes. Richard Mawbey’s wigs and make-up reach their apogee in Samson Ajewole’s ’maid’ Jacob. Ben Cracknell’s lighting is by contrast a quiet model of illumination and spot-lighting. Tim Whiting’s musical pacing is sharply delivered and the band acquit themselves with interest. Bill Deamer’s choreography makes use of the not unlimited Theatre Royal space. Till August 26th
La Cage aux Folles one might say comes home to Brighton’s Theatre Royal in this revival by Bill Kenwright Productions directed by Martin Connor. There’s no mystery why Brighton gets two weeks of this, though special mention must be made of a heroic return of John Partridge after being unwell at the beginning, his first night taken by dance captain Jordan Livesey. It’s a tribute to the company that this was by several accounts a superb performance. Partridge though proves he has something different to say to any previous Albin.
Gary McCann made as much use of the necessarily flexible touring space with backdrops and very glitzy pink and silver champagne steps, a red floor doing service for the club Jacqueline’s restaurant and the married male couple’s living room, delightfully adorned with a statue whose penis pulled flashes on a light, that kind of thing. And of course the hastily sketchy turquoise interior with cross and flagellant interior hastily created by Georges’ son Jean-Michele when toning it down for the benefit of prudish (prospective) in-laws.
McCann is responsible for the appropriately outré costumes (the one on Paul F Monaghan’s Dindon the far-right politico positively outrageous). Richard Mawbey’s wigs and make-up reach their apogee in Samson Ajewole’s ’maid’ Jacob. Bill Deamer’s choreography makes use of the not unlimited Theatre Royal space, and is occasionally prone to a wild gesture, more usually efficient. Ben Cracknell’s lighting is by contrast a quiet model of illumination and spot-lighting.
This is a Cage with stand-up. John Partridge ad-libs in sequences with the audience including Tim Whiting’s musical director who receives a new name and much else. His pacing is sharply delivered and the band acquit themselves with interest, thwacking back at the fireworks crackled above them. Partridge at one point ad-libs in German, clearly prepared, only for a German in the audience to answer him.
The overall effect of this though is to slow the first act down considerably and some cracks appear under the varnish. Whether the experienced Connor needed Partridge to riff for quite so long, is mere speculation, though the tempo needs picking up here. That said, the second act was airborne.
Partridge’s performance is first a dance and act with an unexpected filip in vocal and singing agility. The power of this seemingly hesitant reading is the way Partridge’s Albin flinches from humiliation to humiliation as ‘his’ son, George’s son from a one-night-stand with English Sylvia (old jokes about an English tart here or Welsh rarebit) reveals he’s in love with Alexandra Robinson’s appealing Anne. Fine, but her parents are far right Didon (the granite-moralled and equally cracked Monaghan, a fine turn) and Su Douglas’ more pliable Marie – with a cracked voice worthy of Florence Foster Jenkins. With a whip.
The great torch song Albin sings lurches from sotto voce murmur barely audible cracked with hurt to a blazon of literally finding his own voice. Partridge reveals courage and character in this utterly convincing rendition. Really fine too is his compromise John Wayne shoulder shuffle and his whiplash reactions to nearly everything. Only Livesey’s Hannah with the whips and Ajewole’s outrageous butler/maid compete on this front. Compete they do though: both Livesey and Ajewole are ones to watch.
Adrian Zmed’s Georges exudes the right mix of avuncular passing-as-straight and camp anxiety at discovery, singing with baritonal character. One regrets Marti Webb’s Jacqueline the restaurant owner who resolves the whole situation doesn’t get more of a blast since she’s superb. Dougie Carter’s Jean-Michele is a fine light tenor with appeal and presence, and makes as proud a son as either of his true parents could wish for.
Most of all however, it’s a strong company that pulls an initially sluggish-paced Cage to its full strengths. With that single caveat it’s easy to see how this production breaks new ground in its truthfulness. The score sounds both a foot in the 21st century and in some phrasing – and rhythm – almost as antique as ‘There’s no business like show business’. Jerry Herman proves Janus-faced in this his best-known music; just as this paean to tolerance and LGBTQ living sings so much of its time, and of ours.