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.
“fiercely and fearlessly full of rich dialogue that explores some of the deepest questions of human existence”
“The Sunset Limited”, by the American novelist, playwright and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy, was originally published as ‘A Novel in Dramatic Form’. What distinguishes this from a play is uncertain. What is certain, though, is that the award-winning writer’s unique style infuses each word and phrase with customary flamboyant bleakness that holds our attention to an almost uncomfortable degree.
Devoid of any real theme or plot, it is fiercely and fearlessly full of rich dialogue that explores some of the deepest questions of human existence. In the past, McCarthy has admitted that he respects only authors who “deal with issues of life and death”. Indeed, his nihilistic, almost existential approach can be off-putting on the surface, but his command of language and colloquial style effortlessly draw us into this short, one act play. And once we are in, what keeps us there – in this case – are the performances of Gary Beadle and Jasper Britton who play the two nameless characters.
Referred to only by the colour of their skin, Beadle is labelled ‘Black’, while Britton is ‘White’. All the action (or inaction) takes place in Black’s sparse, run-down tenement building. Black is an ex-convict while White is a professor. Sounds predictable and insensitively black and white, but any potential stereotyping is rapidly subverted and quashed. Black is cheerful; an optimist and evangelical Christian while White is an irredeemably miserable atheist. It becomes clear in the opening scene that Black has saved White from throwing himself under a train. (The title of the play derives from the name of the passenger train – The Sunset Limited – that travels from New Orleans to Los Angeles). Black has taken White back to his apartment and taken it upon himself to save White from any further attempts at suicide.
Beadle and Britton captivate throughout as we watch them steer their way through the ensuing debate. Nothing happens, beyond drinking coffee, or Black serving up a dish of reheated Creole cuisine from his fridge. But we are shaken to the core by their two opposing worlds, and our ideas are shattered by the crashing waves of their argument. Just as we think we are safely buoyed up by Black’s rolling tide of positivity, we are dangerously dragged back by the undertow of White’s nihilism. It is a raging debate, but comical too. “I long for the darkness” utters White, “If I thought that in death, I would meet the people I knew in life, I don’t know what I’d do. That would be the ultimate nightmare”. Britton beautifully seizes on the savagery of this pessimism but with a deadpan glee that brings out the humour. Beadle’s bible bashing counter arguments come with as many absurd and self-deprecating twists that remind us that we are being entertained rather than preached at.
The two actors’ natural performances transform McCarthy’s writing into a kind of poetry. Director Terry Johnson pitches them together in a slow dance that keeps the rhythm flowing and echoing in our heads long after we leave the theatre. The questions it has kicked up refuse to settle. After all – there are no real answers for them to settle on. But we, the audience, have the easier task: we can safely discuss these questions of life and death in the bar after the show, leaving the characters on the stage to make the life or death decisions.
The outlook is pitch-black and harsh, and seemingly a dead end, but nowhere else is a journey to nowhere such a pleasure.