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.
“Tracy-Ann Oberman is superb as Brenda, finding her way through a landscape of emotions in a devastatingly truthful arc”
Do you have to love your child, no matter what they have done? Can you? This is a play about what it means to be a mother, in particular, what it means to be the mother of a son who has done something terrible. Evan Placey has written a masterful and gripping examination of this question, set during the week leading up to the sentencing of Brenda’s son Matthew for the crime of rape. But Matthew is not the only son, he has an eight year old brother, Jason, and Brenda has to deal with his needs, her own distress, and a media siege outside her front door. Tracy-Ann Oberman is superb as Brenda, finding her way through a landscape of emotions in a devastatingly truthful arc, and bringing in delightful and unexpected humour at times. It’s a performance that had my friend and I in tears. We are both mothers of sons, and were both impressed that a young man could write such a complex, real woman with understanding, humanity and a lightness of touch. Because, while this is a play that challenges us to think and question, while it is a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, it is never heavy, never forced.
The action is set in 1998, before social media, so the press and television were absolutely in control of the narrative in any situation. Every time Brenda or Jason leave the house they pounce. This is only shown by off stage sound and lighting, a successful design decision that makes the house seem more and more like a prison as the story progresses. Matthew, played by Scott Folan, is probably not anyone’s idea of a rapist. he is young, gangly and defensive. A normal teenager. Folan never reveals too much, leaving us questioning why this boy man could have done what he did. He is sweet with his young brother Jason, delightfully portrayed by Matt Goldberg, one of two boys who share the role. We get the feeling of a real family, a single mother trying to keep some normality for her younger son, not knowing how to deal with the older one. The boy who has become a stranger, a kind of monster.
Simon Hepworth plays family friend and lawyer Robert Rosenberg, trying to help with the court case and trying to keep Brenda on an even keel. His reliability and patience balancing Neil Sheffield’s unreliable Steve, the long absent father of the boys who shows up late in the play. Anjelica Serra completes the cast, playing Matthew’s girlfriend Jessica, and Tess, the cleaner. None of the cast put a foot wrong and, although it is Tracy-Ann Oberman’s Brenda who is at the centre of the drama, everyone deserves an accolade.
The sound design includes radio broadcasts, and is a valuable evocation of the time beautifully created by Fergus O’Hare. Ali Hunter’s lighting and Lee Newby’s costumes and flexible set create a believable world, a home that’s now both a prison and a refuge from the outside world. The whole thing is drawn together and directed by Max Lindsay with a lovely sense of place and family. It is a triumph.