05 May 2009

La Cage aux Folles - Playhouse Theatre, Monday 4th May 2008 (re-review, production originally reviewed December 2007)

For synopsis, see original review December 2007

Albin- Roger Allam
Georges - Phillip Quast
Jean-Michelle - Stuart Neal
Jacob - Jason Pennycooke
Anne - Alicia Davies
Cagelles - Ben Bunce, Darren Carnell, Nicholas Cunningham, Nolan Frederick, Gary Murphy, Dane Quixelle, Adrian der Gregorian

Only under very rare circumstances would I advise going to see a show for a second time - lightning never strikes twice, they say (unless you're very unlucky). And on second viewing, I'm afraid that this production of La Cage aux Folles missed quite a lot of marks.
Having moved from the cosy (some would say "cramped") Menier Chocolate Factory, the show has lost quite a lot of the somewhat shabby intimacy that made it so enjoyable. The Playhouse have tried to compensate for the larger space by creating a "stage within a stage" - a second, smaller proscenium set back from the permanent one. Four or five cafe tables are set across the front row of the auditorium (where the orchestra pit would be if there were one) so that unwary patrons can be flirted with and generally embarrassed by the cast, but where at the Menier these tables were more or less on a level with the stage (allowing all sorts of outrageous olive-feeding, hair-ruffling and drink-stealing), they are now so far below stage level that nothing can be acheived by the cast without practically getting down on all fours. This may appeal to those who enjoy doing whatever they do doggy-fashion, but its now so difficult to acheive this naturally that any attempt feels extremely forced and looks even worse. The cast are now divorced from their audience and the intimacy and immediacy has gone.

The change of venue also means that the feeling of entering a small, slightly seedy nightclub has completely gone; at the Menier this was expertly contrived by having the audience come down the stairs from the bar and through a swagged velvet "tunnel" hung with fairy lights - exactly how it would be done if "La Cage aux Folles" was a real place. Here, that feeling of verisimilitude has gone; you're walking into a "proper" theatre and the atmosphere has disappeared completely. To quote Pope, there is no "genius of the place" any more, and the overall feel of the production has changed accordingly. It feels sterile, vacuum packed.

Of the original Menier cast, Philip Quast has recently returned as Georges, and is as louche and wonderful as ever, but has to battle hard to overcome the new sanitised atmosphere. Jason Pennycooke has stayed with the production all the way since it opened at the Menier, and is now coming dangerously close to over-egging the pudding as Jacob, almost parodying the role to the point of incomprehensibility. All the gestures are bigger, the "franglais" more pronounced (several times I couldn't understand a word he was saying) , the facial expressions that bit more tortured. It doesn't work - its merely irritating. The Cagelles have also "upped" their performance, with the result that they now border on the macabre. At times they resemble dancers from the infernal regions. There are few smiles, only rictus grins. They've changed from drag queens to twisted monsters from some members-only freak show. Scary, scary, scary.
Roger Allam, it must be said, made a bit of a fist of the role of Albin. OK, it was his very first performance in the role, but he slipped over quite a few lines, was unsure of a lot of the choreography and practically threw I am what I am away for nothing. I saw little of the personal struggle and triumph that Douglas Hodge brought to this song - no lump in my throat this time round.
I'm so glad I saw this back in December 2007 when it was fresh. The best of times was then - whats left of La Cage is but a faded rose.


Lee said...

I am glad that the professional reviews agreed with own assesment that Roger Allam gives a beautiful performance as Albin.

rtb said...

I'd be very interested in your sending a link to this, seeing as how it hasn't been professionally reviewed since opening at the Playhouse Theatre some months ago.

Lee said...

Here we go, it was press night last night:

5 star review in London Evening Standard: "Allam’s Albin resembles a cross between those two legendary Dames, Edna Everage and Barbara Cartland, yet he endows the part with not just high preposterousness, but also an unexpected nobility. "


Michael Coveny in Whatsonstage, 5 star review.. "performance is outstandingly good and sufficiently different from Hodge’s to merit a third visit to the revival of Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s great 1983 musical that opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory at the end of 2007.

Allam is older, slightly more absurd, less interested in exploring the various feminine traits in Albin’s character than was Hodge, but just as brilliant at standing up for himself and claiming his dignity as a surrogate father and house frau."


etc etc etc