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.
“a profoundly important drama, and totally riveting”
One of Arthur Miller’s later plays, “Broken Glass”, written in 1994, is as rich and deeply moving as any of his earlier, better known works. Set in 1938, in the context of ‘Kristallnacht’ (the ‘night of broken glass’), it focuses on a Jewish couple living in New York and juxtaposes the personal breakdown of their marriage with the far-off effects of the anti-Jewish outbreaks in pre-war Germany in a challenging and painfully honest way.
Phillip and Sylvia Gellburg are living increasingly separate lives. Phillip is obsessed with getting ahead, in a real estate company where he is the only Jew. Sylvia is disturbed by the news of Kristallnacht from Germany. In a single night, the Nazis destroyed thousands of Jewish homes and businesses, smashing windows and burning synagogues. Haunted by these images in the New York newspapers, she suffers a mysterious paralysis and is unable to move from the waist down. Diagnosed as a psychosomatic reaction by the popular and attractive Dr Harry Hyman, it soon becomes clear that the causes are somewhat more complex.
Michael Matus gives a quite stunning portrait of Phillip; a man uncomfortable in his own skin. Self-loathing and withdrawn he is constantly fighting the temptation to blame himself for his wife’s disability. Matus skilfully shows us how his own anxieties are just as crippling as his wife’s physical immobility. His guilt, coupled with sexual impotence, gives rise to frightening bouts of anger that, later on in the play, betray a tender vulnerability and need for forgiveness.
Amy Marston has to be applauded for her portrayal of the neglected wife. A late replacement to the cast, she conveys a sensitivity and sensuality that still manage to pack a punch. There is also a strong current of sexuality that is only aroused in the presence of the doctor: a relaxed, assured and natural performance from Michael Higgs. An outsider to the marriage he worms his way in nonetheless.
Simon Kenny’s translucent set adds an edgy claustrophobia to proceedings, and encased within the tarnished glass walls is cellist Susie Blankfield. Ed Lewis’ grief-laden score accentuates the production, adding a real emotive power.
“Broken Glass” is not a political play. The events surrounding ‘Kristallnacht’ are, in fact, reduced to a backdrop, but it is a profoundly important drama, and totally riveting – particularly in the second act when the couple confront each other’s raw emotions. The production is further heightened by an equally strong supporting cast who all tread carefully around the action as if walking on broken glass; towards an unforgettable finale that achingly lays bare the true nature of forgiveness.
I hope this show makes the transfer into town, but if not it is well worth venturing out to Watford to catch it while you can.