Wednesday 31 December 2008

La Cage aux Folles

On Monday we went to see La Cage aux Folles at the Playhouse Theatre. Terry Johnson's production originated at the Menier Chocolate Factory, but most critics seemed to think that it had benefited from being moved to the bigger theatre, not that the Playhouse is huge.

I had never seen the musical live, but was familiar with the previous West End production where it was produced at the Palladium in 1986. This was a highly glamorous creation and I had always felt that this style was unsuitable for the musical, which could benefit from a slightly grittier edge.

The Menier production, being essentially small scale, has followed this line. The nightclub is a rather dowdy place and the dancers, though technically superb, definitely carry with them a whiff of drag troupes like Bloolips.

The night we went, everyone was ill, so that both Georges and Albin were played by covers and Robert Maskell, playing Albin, was announced as being ill. In fact Maskell was superb and the only sign of illness was that his voice sounded a little tired by the end.

Maskell's Albin was, of necessity, camp but not grotesquely so and Maskell generated an enormous amount of sympathy for the character. His delivery of I am what I am at the close of Act 1 was definitely no torch song and profoundly moving. Albin was presented as a drag entertainer like the old style drag artists such as the Trollettes. Maskell's Albin was javascript:void(0)certainly no Danny La Rue, but a more believable rather rumpled figure.

The musical has the profound virtue of putting two middle aged men at the centre of the show, and this production did not try to over glamorise them. Instead their relationship was rendered believable, touching and ultimately very moving.

The chorus, some 8 strong, were wonderful. All men, they danced, sang and managed to look funny, sexy and threatening.

We went to the show expecting a bit of frilly Christmas entertainment but found the show was much more than this. Highly recommended.

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