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 musical comedy that needs to be stripped back and developed to make it into something that delivers the potential of its narrative”
‘Queereteria TV’ takes us post-apocalypse, as a group of gay men take over a TV station, that was the previous site of gay cruising club, Club Queereteria. It’s a queer comedy complete with music, dance and drag, and is the third in a trilogy of shows that follow Torsten’s journey (played by Andy Bell, Erasure), each accompanied by a concept album.
As we enter Above the Stag’s new and improved auditorium, it is clear that this is a beautiful space. David Shields’ set design compliments it well. Curved screens are used effectively throughout the play, particularly in the second half of the show, where we are placed in a kitchen, in the House of Commons and in an episode of Dragon’s Den. These sketches are also some of the strongest moments of the show, which unfortunately fails to deliver or develop much of a narrative that an audience can emotionally engage in.
The script, written by Barney Ashton-Bullock, is overwritten and overindulgent, and because of this it is frequently inaccessible. It is full of big ideas and aims to explore some vital topics including queer sexuality, fetish, gender conformity, the power of the media, societal pressure and conformity, however they fail to come together. Whilst it might work in a shorter format, a full length play where every other sentence is an innuendo quickly becomes repetitive, as there is no nuance to the humour. Unfortunately as a result, the whole play is one note. The fun and potential within the script could be condensed into an hour and be considerably more entertaining and investigative than the current product.
Ashton-Bullock also appears in the play as Torsten’s lover, Daniel. Unfortunately his acting is no better than his writing, and there is no chemistry between him and Bell. Torsten is consistently wooden and ultimately this feels like a glorified showcase for Bell’s singing. Tom Mann can clearly act but his dancing is sadly out of time, whilst William Spencer, who is also the choreographer, is a competent and stylish dancer, who struggles with his acting. There are certainly issues that director, Robert McWhir, should’ve ironed out to streamline these performances.
On a stronger note, Matthew Baldwin plays Lady Domina Bizarre and brings a fantastic energy to the stage. Baldwin is funny and vivid, and the best performance of the show. Peter Straker also delivers some lovely moments, finding a level of honesty and truth in a play that otherwise loses this in melodrama and overwriting.
This is a musical comedy that needs to be stripped back and developed to make it into something that delivers the potential of its narrative, and entertains with nuance.