first night

La Cage Au Folles

Jonnie Grande finds moments of brilliance in a competent but underwhelming production of Jean Poiret's comedy.

Peter Brook is convinced it is no coincidence that the words ‘to play’ and ‘a play’ are the same. Watching Kingsman Productions’ La Cage aux Folles at the Assembly Rooms this week, it is tempting to agree. Here is a group of experienced DST-ers, with a sprinkling of new faces, revelling in the opportunities and possibilities made justifiable by being on stage: cue false eye-lashes, sequined skirts and heels aplenty. And that’s just the boys. It’s almost impossible not to join in.


The basis for the Tony award-winning musical of the same name, Jean Poiret’s play centres on Georges Goldman, the owner of the drag club La Cage, and his romantic partner and star of the club, Albin. Hilarious and disastrous consequences follow the announcement by Georges’ son, Laurent, of the imminent arrival of his fiancé’s ultra-conservative parents, the Dindons. It is, then, a problematic piece: do you go for all-out farce, or bring out the darker humour and underlying themes of homophobia and self-identity? Director Liz Smith and her cast, it seems, are still yet to make up their minds, and we are left with a show that, whilst brimming with amusing moments, repeatedly falters and lacks cohesion or direction.


Admittedly, many of the problems lie within the filmic nature of the script, particularly in the first half. The short scenes, constantly jumping from Albin’s dressing-room at La Cage to the house of Laurent’s fiancé, make it near impossible for the play to gather any momentum. This is not helped, however, by the production’s unnecessarily slow changes between the scenes; with no set-change, they would perhaps benefit from snappier transitions. But instead, the long fades to black create an awkward ending to each scene, quickly destroying any sense of rhythm that has been built up. The lop-sided feel of the set also seems to keep pulling us back from ever moving forwards. Whilst Albin’s dressing-room beautifully conveys the cheap elegance of life as a drag act, the Dindons are left with a small corner of the stage, bare but for a telephone.


Through this, Joe Leather’s portrayal of Albin, and his drag-act ‘Zaza’, emerges as triumphant. He minces around the stage with a self-conscious arrogance, never seeming to drop his ‘act’, and making us unsure of where Albin stops and ‘Zaza’ starts. His sudden mood swings are pitched perfectly, as is his voice, and his natural awareness yet embarrassment of his body is technically excellent. Never bordering on a caricature, his ability to arouse sympathy for this comedic character is impressive. Equally, Fergus Leathem is commanding as Georges Goldman, successfully powering each scene while manifesting a dejected exhaustion. Two superb individual performances, the problem arises when they come together, and I was left unconvinced of the relationship between them. This, however, goes for the rest of the cast too. Callum Cheatle (Laurent Goldman), for example, never gets to the root of relating to a gay father, and there appears to be no love between him and his fiancé, Niamh Murphy (Barbara Dindon). This particularly hinders the long scene in the second half, when the Dindons and Goldmans come together. With the characters unable to play off each other, the staging is clumsy, and each peak of hilarity is followed by a moment of unease.


That said, there are flashes of brilliance, the suitably tacky opening being one. Peering through a smoke-filled stage, we can just make out the silhouettes of five tall, slender-legged ‘female’ dancers, sequins glittering under the lights, as they relish performing a loosely choreographed dance number…in heels. And girls, they do a pretty good job! Boasting a hugely talented cast, an imposing and attractive set and a wonderfully cheesy soundtrack, we could be forgiven for expecting a little more. La Cage aux Folles is a light-hearted romp, competently performed but never quite managing to live up to the promise of its outrageous opening.


26 November 2010

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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