Originally produced in 1973, Jean Poiret’s play La Cage aux Folles has long been overshadowed by Jerry Herman’s 1983 musical version. However Poiret’s play was a major hit in its own right in France.
The play tells the story of the chaos that ensues when Laurent, the son of a drag club owner and his gay lover, invites his fiancée’s Christian, right-wing parents for dinner.
The musical adaptation is a celebration of the need to be true to oneself. Simon Callow’s English language premiere of the original play is a respectful adaptation that celebrates the rhythms and constructions of a typical French farce rather than making a statement about gay rights.
The production takes a while to gather momentum but by the second half, the pace quickens, the visual gags broaden and all the loose ends are neatly folded together. The play is violent, uncompromising and frankly quite weird in places, but director Jez Bond embraces this.
His production casually breaks the fourth wall on several occasions and steers clear of naturalism in any way, shape or form. Tim Shortall’s set design reflects this, looking more like a stage set than an actual reception room above a drag club in Saint-Tropez.
Paul Hunter’s drag queen Albin doesn’t just play to the gallery either, although he is in danger of stealing the show on occasion. Michael Matus is marvellously harried Georges and there’s magnificent support from Syrus Lowe as the ambitious maid Jacob, and Arthur Hughes as the wilful and obdurate Laurent.
The hard edges that Herman softened might be difficult for contemporary audiences to swallow but as a classic farce, there’s much to enjoy in Bond’s production.