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.
Sex and its politics have been the centre of art for centuries, which is well proven with William Wycherley’s classic Restoration play, The Country Wife. First seen in 1675, it was deemed so risqué and vulgar that it wasn’t put back on stage for centuries. Morphic Graffiti’s new adaptation of the play transports it from the 17th century into the Roaring Twenties, setting it among the carefree, party-going spirit of the Bright Young Things. This change in time works well, now oozing with glamour and style, yet, with all its dandy dressing and sumptuous sets, it hardly leaves you hot under the collar. It’s silly, sordid, fun, amalgamating into a Carry On-cum-Downton-cum-EastEnders affair.
Restoration comedies are tricky (and lengthy) ones to sit through, with their convoluted plots, long-winded dialogue, interchanging characters and moral principles that seem prehistoric to modern audiences. However, Morphic Graffiti have tried their best in making this version of The Country Wife accessible, particularly to the young. Eking out as many modern double entendres they can find, plus, using pop songs reproduced in the style of a Twenties Jazz band, does become repetitive and stale as they push the contemporary boat out as far as they possibly can.
Director Luke Fredericks succeeds in focusing on the unleashing of female desires, therefore, sidestepping over the more unpleasant misogynistic undertones to the original text. Using the sexual freedom of the flapper girls in the 1920s as the historical context, the women of this production are confident, not letting anyone stop them from getting what they want. Especially their husbands. From the sultry femme fatale Alithea (Siubhan Harrison), to the rampant Lady Fidget (Sarah Lam), and even the minx-like Margery Pinchwife (Nancy Sullivan) the ‘country wife’ of the title, they all have sexual appetites to be fed. Notorious womaniser Harry Horner (Eddie Eyre) is the one to fulfil their needs. Claiming himself to have been castrated whilst in France, it leaves husbands falsely unworried to leave their society wives alone in his company.
With a mix of deception, disguise and plenty of debauchery, this farcical tale is a whirlwind adventure, often feeling as jumpy as the cocaine trip that Horner’s sidekick Dorilant (Joshua Hill) constantly seems to be on. The mismatch of performance styles is clunky and confusing, with some actors taking a more classical approach, such as Richard Clews as the cuckolded Mr Pinchwife, whilst Eyre as Harry Horner could be a Jack the lad member of TOWIE. Nevertheless, there are plenty of laugh out loud moments in this production, and the cast certainly bring an explosive energy, with their wonderfully choreographed musical scene changes being a particular highlight.