much to love about this new touring production of
it’s big, brassy and full of confidence from the word go
This is most obvious during the first half, when we unexpectedly find ourselves playing the role of late-night audience in Saint-Tropez drag nightclub, La Cage Aux Folles. John Partridge, as sharp-tongued artiste Zaza (aka Albin, the longterm partner of owner Georges), goes full-on Pantomime in terms of audience participation. Whether or not he’s deliberately biding time for some complicated set change happening behind the dropped curtain, Partridge’s hard-edged sarcasm is likely to have you either wetting your seat in hysterics or checking your watch and wondering just when the promised “serious bit” will turn up.
Dramatically speaking, too, there’s a question of focus; as an intrinsically French farce, giving Albin a working class, north of England accent—while an interesting cultural contrast with partner Georges—is nevertheless... distracting. And when, exactly, is all this supposed to be happening? Partridge revels in occasionally dropping the odd contemporary reference—they mostly get big laughs, but undermine how events are surely taking place in a time before (for example) any restaurant would be full of diners with mobile phones more than capable of photographing a compromised politician out of their comfort zone. Who needs the press pack now?
Undoubtedly there's much to praise; this is a touring production that, for once, isn’t lost within a cavernous venue the size of Edinburgh Playhouse; it’s big, brassy and full of confidence from the word go. Gary McGann’s set and costumes, allied with Richard Mawbey’s wigs and make-up are astounding, while Ben Cracknell’s lighting design is little short of painterly. Bill Deamer’s choreography, meantime, ranges from the stylish to the amusing, while musical director Mark Crossland—with just six musicians—manages to provide a full-bodied, orchestral sound that keeps clear of the cheap electronic and doesn’t lose the emotion.
Unfortunately, Marti Webb has few opportunities here to make any real impression as restaurant-owner Jacqueline, especially given she’s up against the towering Samon Ajewole as stage-struck “maid” Jacob. Thankfully Adrian Zmed brings much-needed vocal tenderness and heart to Georges which Partridge—for all his witty one-liners—frequently lacks as Albin. This is a bold, fun-filled show, but one that needs a tighter grip on the emotional story at its heart.