Simon Callow’s translation of this celebrated French farce is a triumph of hilarious camp, full of double entendres, sparkly dresses and genuine affection. Georges and Albin are a gay couple, living above the Cage Aux Folles nightclub. Albin is its ageing star who still looks good in a frock, but is no longer the sexy sylph. Georges is the harassed manager, continually fending of crises. They bicker and squabble, but, as Michael Matus and Paul Hunter show, they still love each other anyway. But their world is about to be turned upside down. Georges’ son Laurent arrives and announces that he is getting married, and that his girlfriend and her parents are coming to stay. Unfortunately the parents are conservative in the extreme, and the father is running for election on a ticket of morality and rectitude. How can Georges rearrange and tame his gorgeously queeny household and survive their arrival? That is the central dilemma that drives the action, and it is quite a task!
Syrus Lowe is a total class act as the screamingly camp and beautiful employee, Jacob. He struts and pouts his way through the play with a charming outrageousness and his attempt to walk in men’s shoes instead of his high heels is a masterpiece of physical comedy. By the time Laurent’s girlfriend Muriel and her the parents arrive the apartment has been transformed from its boudoir aesthetic to something almost monastic, complete with crucifix, Tim Shorthall’s design creating the physical changes Laurent persuades Georges to make, in his attempt to portray a ‘respectable’ family. Of course, it all goes horribly wrong. Laurent has invited his absentee mother to dinner much to the horror of Georges and Albin, and Albin has given up in his attempt to play the masculine uncle, opting for a totally different role that complicates everything. As the dinner party goes rapidly downhill the club downstairs is plunging into chaos and Georges has to act. Throughout the play other drag artists appear from downstairs and a reporter snoops around, looking for dirt. The reporter is played by Mark Cameron, who also has a hilarious cameo as the butcher, a tough guy macho man who turns out to have an unlikely love of art.
Jez Bond has directed a gem of a play, tightly timed and focussed, but feeling like an outrageous disaster as all good farce should. I hope this gets a transfer after it’s life at the Park. It deserves it.
“fearlessly addresses the concerns of the Trump-era presidency with chilling historical references”
In a prison interrogation room in 2019, Rick has one chance to tell reporter Gloria his side of the story. In the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Time Square, the American president orders a “round up”: the mass deportation of immigrants. When other countries refuse to engage in this scheme of ‘repatriation’, the number of detainees sky rockets and America is running out of places to put them. In the middle of all this is Rick. Rick runs a detainee prison. He is dealing with overcrowding, cholera, a heat wave and now governmental pressure. Months later, he is in prison himself, the President has been impeached and we are about to find out why. Bravely set only a stone’s throw into the future (although written in 2016), Robert Schenkkan’s dystopian narrative is a sinister vision of the possible consequences of a violent anti-immigration governmental stance, and begs the question: is it a crime to follow orders?
Jez Bond directs the UK premiere of ‘Building the Wall’ flawlessly. We watch the interview through the glass of an interrogation room (designed by Sarah Beaton). The room itself is bright white, bare apart from the obvious table and chairs, a water dispenser and a black mirror/window set into the wall. The sound (Theo Holloway) and lighting (Sally Ferguson) design are detailed and intelligent. We can only hear the characters speak when Gloria’s sound recorder is on, and the interview is underscored by sounds of violence from the prison, reminding the audience of what Rick’s everyday has become. As the play begins, long white ceiling lights flicker off, section by section.
Angela Griffin plays the African American academic, the only person Rick has granted access to. Trevor White plays Rick. Both are infinitely believable and I cannot fault their performances, but the characters themselves lack a certain level of depth and complexity. There is very little tension between them, meaning the ‘thriller’ element that the play defines itself with is missing, and the characters often serve as vehicles for the narrative. We do get a small amount of insight into Gloria’s life, her experiences of racism at an early age for example. Schenkkan also positions Rick as a cog within the system despite his differentiation between “the illegals” and “real Americans”, which adds some nuance to his character. However, given the structure of the play, their predominant function is to push the plot forwards and they have little development of their own.
Despite this, ‘Building the Wall’ is an intensely thought-provoking play, that fearlessly addresses the concerns of the Trump-era presidency with chilling historical references – a warning that must be heeded internationally. It is a brazenly political play that succeeds in delivering a message that needs to be heard. Whilst the characters are at points reduced to narrative vehicles, Griffin and White deliver competent and convincing performances, and the production is slick and well-done.