30 December 2007

La Cage aux Folles - Menier Choclate Factory - Friday 26th December 2007


Georges and his lover Albin, who stars as Zaza at their St. Tropez drag nightclub, "La Cage aux Folles," have lived happily together for many years. Their apartment is also home to their black "maid" Jacob. Georges' son Jean-Michel (the offspring of a confused, youthful liaison with a woman named Sybil) arrives with the news that he is engaged to Anne Dindon. Unfortunately, her father is head of the "Tradition, Family and Morality Party," whose stated goal is to close the local drag clubs. Anne's parents want to meet their daughter's future in-laws. Jean-Michel has lied to his fiancée, describing Georges as a retired diplomat. Jean-Michel pleads with Albin to absent himself (and his flamboyantly gay behaviors) for the visit - and for Georges to redecorate the apartment in a more subdued fashion. He will invite Sybil--who has barely been involved with him since his birth--to dinner in Albin's stead. Albin's feelings are hurt – he has been a good "mother". He departs in a huff.

The next morning, Georges suggests to Albin that he dress up as macho "Uncle Al". Back at the chastely redesigned apartment, Georges receives a telegram that Jean-Michel's mother Sybil is not coming, and Anne's parents arrive. Hoping to save the day, Albin appears as Jean-Michel's buxom, forty-year-old mother. The nervous Jacob burns the dinner, so a trip to a local restaurant, Chez Jacqueline, belonging to an old friend of Albin and Georges, is quickly arranged. No one has briefed Jacqueline on the situation, and she asks Albin for a song. As Zaza, Albin yields to the frenzy of performance tears off his wig at the song's climax, revealing his true identity.

Back at the apartment, the Dindons plead with their daughter to abandon her fiancé. But she is in love with Jean-Michel and refuses to leave him. Jean-Michel, deeply ashamed of the way he has treated Albin, asks his forgiveness (which is, of course, lovingly granted). The Dindons prepare to depart, but their way is blocked by Jacqueline, who has arrived with the press, ready to photograph these notorious anti-homosexual activists with Zaza. Georges and Albin have a proposal: If Anne and Jean-Michel may marry (and really, the Dindons have no choice in that matter), George will help the Dindons escape through La Cage aux Folles next door. The Dindons do so, dressed in drag as members of the nightclub's revue, and all ends well.

Seemingly inexhaustible trips to the theatre to round off 2007! Our Boxing Day jaunt was back to the Menier Chocolate Theatre (fast becoming a favourite haunt of ours, it seems!).

One of the things I love about this place is how they are endlessly inventive with such a small space – never the same thing twice. This time we had a classic proscenium arch draped and swagged with pink curtains, with two rows of café tables in front of the usual block seating. We arrived rather late so had to take one of these tables – but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I gather that the seating behind was more than usually cramped and uncomfortable. It also meant that a certain Bloody Old Ham by the name of CBB managed to worm his way into the limelight, dammit, being flirted with, fed olives by and generally tarted around with by Philip Quast. Doors had to be widened to accommodate heads on the journey home, believe me.
What I don’t like about this place is its “unreserved seats” policy – this means that you’re all held together in the bar outside a pair of folding metal screen doors until they open, at which point there is a general rugby scrum with arms and legs flailing all over the place and lots of pushing and shoving and losing of scarves. If anyone fell, I think the poor bugger would end up as a small mushy heap on the floor. It created a lot of unpleasantness when it was appeared that they had sold slightly more tickets than there were seats and several muttered conversations with front-of-house staff seemed to be taking place. Not a good start. Neither do I like the fact that I got charged a tenner for two warm gin and tonics in the interval.

This was a generally smaller scale production of this show than is usually seen, which didn’t hurt it a bit – it gave it a sense of reality and rather homely warmth. The downside is that it therefore had a very small chorus of “Cagelles” – 8 guys in total – which meant that their numbers were a bit underpowered vocally. You had to listen really carefully to catch the words of the first number. Mind you, they looked great, in that slightly frightening way that young drag queens do –rather scarily smooth and plucked, a bit like clingfilmed chicken wings. I bet most of them are right bitches off stage. Still, I expect that young, slim, orally talented dancers are not that thick on the ground in the vicinity of XXL (in-joke there for us boys in the know).

Also somewhat offputting was the presence in the cast of one Una Stubbs (what do you mean, Who? She was in Summer Holiday with Cliff Richard, for godsake!) in a couple of tiny roles in Act I, each entry and exit accompanied by whispers of “ThatsUnaStubssThatsUnaStubbsThatsUnaStubbs” from older members of the audience to their bewildered offspring. As such, she did tend to stick out rather like a sore thumb on stage – shame.

It was obvious that Douglas Hodge was a little under-rehearsed. I did hear that he had been taken ill during early rehearsals, so perhaps this was the reason. A couple of times he looked distinctly at sea during dance numbers but this was really only apparent if you were looking closely. He gave a very cuddly, affectionate portrayal of Albin – looking a bit like your favourite auntie when she’s all dolled up for a night out; all Ell-nette and pearls. He was bested however by Philip Quast as Georges – urbane, witty, charming and all over CBB like a feckin’ rash. The only problem was (call me old fashioned) but his costume did look slightly grubby in the trouser department – Wardrobe please note that a damp sponge and a hot iron can do wonders. Neil McDermott was nicely clean cut as Jean-Michel and his costume was spot on for a 20 year old in 1970s Paris – all checked flares and sprigged cotton shirts with big collars. I thought Jason Pennycook as the “maid” Jacob was actually rather good but CBB didn’t think that he did all that was possible with the part, only all that was necessary. I can’t recall the name of the guy playing the Stage Manager but he was strangely sexy and he had a very nice butt!

All in all, a lovely warm cuddle of a show, one that sent us singing out into the night to brave the transport difficulties home. Remark heard on the way out – “Well, I think Emily understood most of it – but then she is nearly twelve……” Priceless.

1 comment:

powercat said...

hi, you must have seen one of Douglas Hodges first appearnces. He has been off very poorly since November and Spencer filled in and is still doing matinees.

Hodge will have to work hrad to match Spencer who is great in the part, albiet perhaps a little young. Super voice.worked well with Quast

Loved the plate scene i bet rehersals were fun, even if the air was probably a bit blue some times!! The manly walk scene was great as well we were in fits.

Wish you were there at the performace I saw, Quast had to work really hard to get response from the front row, did in the end but my god it was hard work.

No problem in the trouser department when I was there, but wardrobe is in the blood, so I would have noticed, Also no mutterings re Una Stubbs. Just shows what a difference an audience can make.

My first visit, Menier, hopefully not the last, just shows what can be done with thought and imagination