In our politically turbulent times, in which the country was more or less split down the middle in the 2016 EU referendum, and around half of us voted Conservative and half of us didn’t in the 2019 general election, more and more of us are becoming forced to realised that everyday we’re sharing our lives with some who hold completely opposing views to ours. How then, should we behave in these moments? When we realise a colleague is a raging Tory? Or a seemingly normal new friend is a hippie lefty? Or, as in La Cage aux Folles [The Play], your sons soon-to-be in-laws are running for Parliament on the ‘extremely right-wing Christians’ ticket?
It’s the 70’s and we’re in St Tropez, where Albin (Paul Hunter) and Georges (Michael Matus) have been (for context: in a homosexual relationship) for 15 years, singing and running the club La Cage aux Folles which they live above. When Georges’ son Laurent (Arthur Hughes) unexpectedly pitches up at their ‘camply’ decorated apartment and practically asks them to do an Extreme Makeover: Straight Edition on both their home and themselves so that they might be more palatable for his fiancé Muriel’s (Georgina Ambrey) parents, they agree in order for their son to be permitted to marry her.
Matus and Hunter are a match made in heaven, hilarious in their attempts to quite literally ‘straighten up’, mimicking the butcher (Mark Cameron) and bickering like an old married couple. Georges is eternally stressed, the poor bugger, and Hunter is eternally on the wind-up. Even when they’re accusing one another of having “shoulders like puff pastry”, the love and unity between them is, as the kids say, #goals. Syrus Lowe is bloody funny as Jacob, the maid/cook/general lackey from Belgium with dreams of getting on the La Cage aux Folles stage. Together, they make a lovely odd little family, and their interactions throughout Act One make me wish I were bar staff in the sunny Cote D’Azur club.
I understand La Cage aux Folles is not a new story and has been produced and reproduced many times before – as a musical, film and a play. This new adaptation by Simon Callow is Shakespearean in its chaos and reminds me of a late comedy with its mistaken identity, ‘cross-dressing’ as it would’ve been known then, fools and capers – all with a happy marriage at the end. And while this is all very nice and makes the perfect backbone for a jolly musical or a light-hearted film, I wish this play had grabbed its opportunity to delve more into the moral complications of what Laurent is asking his parents to do. To hide who we are, to say nothing when our rights and equality is threatened, for the sake of a loved one? Is it ever the right thing to do? Is there a wrong or right answer? Maybe I just love a bit of drama, a grand old speech about right and wrong, and don’t quite know when to shut my gob, but I spend the entirety of the second act waiting for Georges to blow his lid and give them all a rollicking for being such nasty horrible bigots, before kicking them out of his (miserably grey, after Laurent has reverse Queer Eye’d it) home. Instead, Muriel’s parents eventually come around, but only when their reputation is threatened, and they need a favour. Not quite the moral redemption I was hoping for. But with a stellar cast, glowing first half and wonderful heart, La Cage aux Folles [The Play] is still a treat.
La Cage aux Folles [The Play] is playing the Park Theatre until 21 March. For more information and tickets, visit the Park Theatre website.