La Cage aux Folles by Jean Poiret in a new version by Simon Callow. The Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, London N4 to 21 March 2020. 4****. William Russell.

La Cage aux Folles (The Play)
By Jean Poiret – a new adaptation by Simon Callow.
The Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP to 21 March 2020.
Mon- Sat 7.30pm. Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7070 0876.
Review: William Russell 20 February

Forget the musical, this version by Simon Callow of Jean Poiret’s farce, which ran in Paris in the 1970s for five years, is hilarious, well cast and as good a night out as you are likely to come across this year. It is not quite the same as Jerry Herman’s musical or the film The Birdcage, both of which Americanised it all and lacked the edge good farce demands, successful though they were. At the moment it is still a little rough at the edges, but they will smooth down as the run proceeds. What is not in doubt is that Paul Hunter and Michael Matus are splendid as Albin, the temperamental diva and star of the St Tropez nightclub owned by his long time partner Georges and they get terrific support from Syrus Lowe as Jacob, their housemaid, who changes dresses for every appearance and, when forced into men’s clothing, cannot walk in men’s shoes. The joke can be laboured, and has been in some productions, but not here.
The situation is simple. Georges has a handsome twenty year old son, Laurent, played by Arthur Hughes, the result of a night of accidental passion with a dancer in the Follies Bergere, who regards the pair as his parents, mother having gone off in search of other men. Laurent has fallen in love and invited his girlfriend and her parents to stay and also asked his absentee mother. Something has to be done about Albin – and the flat, as gay a palace stuffed with naked male torsos as one could wish – and there is the problem of Mummy. Take it from there. The potential in laws, a rabid right wing politician and his hard as nails wife, have to be deceived somehow so Albin pretends to be Mummy who has not turned up – except that she does. By the end of the evening everyone is dressed as a1920s flappers leading to a splendid closing line to cap what has gone before which I will not reveal but it is almost, if not quite, as good as “Nobody’s perfect. “
In truth the play is a little dated in its attitudes towards gay men living together or having children. There is nothing remarkable now about gay marriage and the need to avoid the intrusive journalists, part of the plot, would almost certainly not be the case. Also the character of Jacob is a bit of a stereotype from the past, but saved from giving any offence by the sheer good humour and skill with which he is played by Mr Lowe. Callow’s translation has “frenchified” things a little and drawn on British attitudes to drag which are different from those of the French to get some of the new jokes over, but he does not take anything away from the original, simply adds a little top dressing. There is possibly a running gag about the couple having a dog called Albin locked in an upstairs room which does not quite work – later someone exits through that locked door which has mysteriously unlocked itself – but some polishing and all will be well.
There is a handsome set, the drag is magnificent, the cast is energetic and a delight to watch, and once or twice to great comic effect the fourth wall gets broken – a risk, but one taken and duly overcome. The simple truth is – Jerry Herman’s songs are not missed, good though they are, nor is that parade of gorgeous beauties with long legs who turned out to be chaps which adorned the musical productions. If you don’t come out humming the tunes you will come out still laughing with a smile on your face and one cannot say fairer than that.
Muriel: Georgina Ambrey.
Madame Priedieu: Louise Bungay.
Marseilles/Zorba: Mark Cameron.
Monsieur Priedieu/Mercedes: Simon Hepworth.
Laurent: Arthur Hughes.
Albin: Paul Hunter.
Simone: Sarah Lam.
Jacob: Syrus Lowe.
Georges: Michael Matus.
Frances: William Nelson.
Tabaro: Peter Straker.

Director: Jez Bond.
Associate Director: Sadie Spencer.
Set & Costume Designer: Tim Shortall.
Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher.
Sound Designer: Yvonne Gilbert.
Movement Direction: Natasha Harrison.
Choreography: Melli Marie.
Production Photography: Mark Douet.

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