Thursday, January 10, 2008

Another Menier Musical

OK then. Finally some theatre, as promised.

On Tuesday I ventured out of the warm cocoon of my flat to visit the Menier Chocolate Factory for the final preview of their revival of La Cage Aux Folles. This was due to open an age ago but the press night had been much delayed due to the illness of Douglas Hodge and an understudy had been playing the role of Albin (Spencer Stafford, who according to my flat mate who saw the show before Christmas, was excellent).

The Menier has been rejigged to include a red-curtained entrance tunnel and a number of cabaret style tables at the front of the stage, as well a strip of quite spectacularly ugly carpet, in a stab at recreating the 1970s St Tropez club in which the show is set.

I’d only encountered La Cage previously through its non-musical American film incarnation, The Birdcage, which I’d managed to sit through despite a severe intolerance to Robin Williams, but the plot remains much the same. Jean Michel, the son of nightclub owner Georges (played by Philip Quast) announces his intention to marry the daughter of a rightwing politician. The future in-laws need to meet, but Jean-Michel insists that Georges’ lover Albin – who performs nightly in the club as Zaza – needs to be elsewhere and that his real mother be present instead, this despite the fact that it is Albin who has raised him.

Though it has a degree of rough-around-the-edges charm, Terry Johnson’s production seems to take an age to set this up. There was some fun business with the club’s troupe of dancers, La Cagelles, though, unobservant me, I took an age to notice that one was in fact a woman, and I liked the way the show focused on the still-strong passion between the middle aged couple but, on the whole, this was a flabby and fluffy thing. Quast and Hodge were decent in their roles but neither knocked me out, the pacing was occasionally awry, and the orchestra, seated in an alcove at the side of the stage, often seemed to fighting against the vocals, the music rather overwhelming the lyrics. There even appeared to be a large piece of duct tape holding the set together in one corner – was this a part of the design?

There was a degree of audience interaction, which I quite liked. Those opting to sit at the front tables are likely to have their head caressed or be fed olives by Quast, but these moments felt rather rehearsed and I’d have liked to seen them push this aspect of the show a little further.

The core of the story, about acceptance, about what constitutes family, is still potent, but though I left humming Jerry Herman’s lyrics, I wasn’t as excited by the production as I’d hoped to be.

The show was playing to a full house though, which allowed me to experience the Menier seating scrum properly for the first time. (The unreserved seating policy meant that a bit of elbow action was required to secure a decent perch). Also, when filing out at the end, my friend and I got to overhear the orchestra loudly deconstructing that night's performance: “OK, next time I think we need to be faster on au revoir.” And we also got to see a six foot tall Germanic tranny sit on Toby Young. Which had entertainment value, certainly.


Esther said...

Sorry you were disappointed. I just have one thing to add: British theater names are great. The Menier Chocolate Factory and the Tricycle Theatre are two of my favorites! If I ever make it back to London, I want to check out both of them.

Interval Drinks said...

I didn't dislike the show, in fact there was much about I enjoyed, I just felt it was a bit patchy and my expectations were high given the Menier's track record with musicals.

The venue is housed in a former chocolate factory, hence the name, and, despite the seating issues, is a very nice space indeed.