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.
“There are a lot of good things going on, but it feels a little too focussed on getting several points across”
Relish Theatre’s new play by James McDermott is set in Cromer in Norfolk, a town that is going through an influx of chain stores and cafes and, maybe, losing its soul. May, played by Wendy Nottingham, in in her fifties and runs a good old fashioned caff at the end of the pier, which may become a Pret a Manger if she sells it. Should she stay or sell up? Ken delivers bread around the town, as he has every day for forty years. What will happen to him if the traditional places close down? Nemo is about to leave and follow his dream, becoming a drama student in London. Daz is staying put, can’t see what’s wrong with Cromer, can’t see what’s right about going to college. Nobody acknowledges their feelings, but Nemo is gay and thinks he is in love with Daz, his best mate. Daz is straight, or is he?
Time and Tide got off to a rather slow start as May and Nemo prepared the cafe for opening. Their relationship was nicely established, with May’s love of old films and Nemo’s doubts creating a believable friendship between this unlikely pair. The first odd directorial decision was when the lights dimmed, and the tables were cleaned for a second time. It’s little things like this that can throw an audience off from the world of the play. ‘But Nemo just cleaned the tables with the squirty bottle and kitchen towel, and arranged the salt and pepper. Why are they doing it again?’ Sadly it wasn’t the only time more aware direction would have been advisable. Ken came in with his bread and gave an enjoyable comic focus to the scene, adding an obvious attraction to May into the mix, Paul Easom managed not to turn Ken into a stock comic character, giving him a vulnerability underneath the comedy that was likeable and sweet. It was all rather charming, but the underlying litany of chain stores taking over the high street felt a bit artificial; more a point to be made than an integral part of the story. it is an important theme in the tale, but the lack of subtlety was wearing.
The central relationship is that of Nemo and Daz, played by Josh Barrow and Elliot Liburd. Barrow’s Nemo was delightful in his insecurity, likeable, wavering and sad. Liburd was the polar opposite, bringing a much needed energy; a loud, sweary cheeky lad down the pub. The two friends had a lot going on beneath the surface, and it had to come out. I don’t want to give away what happens, but at one point Nemo ended up on the floor, at the feet of the audience, and stayed there for quite a while. This made him invisible to at least half the room at a key point in the play. It’s a mistake often made in small theatres, and I wish directors would sit in the back row during rehearsals, with people in front of them and think about positioning.
James McDermott has written a sort of love story to old English seaside towns, as well as a story of different kinds of love between people. There are a lot of good things going on, but it feels a little too focussed on getting several points across. Director Rob Ellis almost succeeded in making it work, but someone needs to tell him that when something is thrown through a window from inside the broken glass is going to be mostly outside, not all over the floor.