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Theatre Review: La Cage Aux Folles

16 February 17 words: Ian Douglas

It's time to open up your closet...


You might be thinking, "Isn’t that the musical that started back in 1982? About the gay couple pulling the wool over the eyes of some homophobic politician? But the world has moved on. AIDS, Grindr, gay marriage. What relevance does it have for the 21st century?"

Think again. There’s a counter-revolution in full swing. Right-wing lawmakers are repealing hard won reforms. It’s becoming lawful to discriminate on the grounds of faith, for example. My faith says you’re a sinner, so I deny you a hotel room, a wedding cake or, even, an operation. The Church of England, who presumably know a thing or two about frocks, just ruled marriage could only be the union of a man and a woman.  

We need theatre like La Cage Aux Folles more than ever. Does this production meet the challenge? Judging from the rapturous standing ovation from the audience, the answer is a resounding yes.

The star of the show is John Partridge, of Eastenders fame. He plays Albin, the cross-dressing legend of the Saint Tropez cabaret scene. Well, he certainly makes a strapping drag artist, muscles bursting out of sequinned dresses. And he gives Albin an interesting choice of voice, a squeaky northern accent like a Yorkshire Joe Pasquale. All part of making the role his own. Not least during a stand-up sequence when he expertly warms up the audience. 

The cast’s infectious joy rubs of on the audience. Adrian Zemd as Albin’s husband, Marti Webb as the indefatigable Jacqueline and Samson Ajewole, as the camp butler, are all delights.

Costumes and choreography are fabulous, darling. Theatregoers whispered to each other as to whether the dancers were really boys or really girls. Did it matter? They were fabulous too.

Of course, it’s a musical. Perhaps only one song has slipped the tether to lead an existence outside of the show. I Am What I Am, an anthem for gay men and women or anyone needing to assert their individuality. John ends the first act with a heart rendering interpretation. The house was spellbound. 

The plot is light. A gay couple’s son is in love with a girl. Yes, a girl! The shame! Worse, she’s the daughter of a nasty, family-values politician sworn to close down the cabaret circuit. Hmm, maybe he could get a job in America right now? Anyway, the son begs his parents to deceive the politician into thinking they’re a normal family, (whatever that is). Time for Albin to put on the greatest performance of his life. Don’t worry too much though, as the farce is toned down and the music is way up.

Whether you prefer dresses or slacks, this is a story for everyone with its message of acceptance. If you’ve ever had to bang your own drum and see things from a different angle, then this play is for you. After all, life's not worth a damn till you can shout out "I am what I am."

La Cage Aux Folles plays at the Theatre Royal from Tuesday 14 - Saturday 18 February 2017.

Theatre Royal website

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