The Menier Chocolate Factory is host to a revival of Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstienâ€™s La Cage Aux Folles.
Having seen the original film, missed the 1986 production at the Palladium and been terrified to even to try the recent American movie version for fear of it loosing all its heart in favour of single entendres and star names, I was entirely enthralled by Terry Johnson's production. With a large and talented cast, sumptuous set design with lots of red velvet and pink chintz by David Farley and some very fine beading and buttressing on the glamorous gowns from costume designer Matthew Wright, the production team had done their job and the cast met the challenge with gusto.
La Cage itself is a high camp cabaret bar in St Tropez run by Georges, manager and master of ceremonies played with all the style and flair that this role requires by Philip Quast, and his significant other, Albin who's drag diva alter ego Zaza has been wowing the clientele for years but, these days, is finding it a little hard to buy either the image he/she puts over on stage or the one he sees staring back in the mirror.
Douglas Hodge takes on this task and, donning a wonderful array of frocks and singing up a storm while flirting with a whole audience hanging on Zaza's every utterance, he simply flys.
The story revolves around the tender relationship between the two leads and their unconditional love for their less than supportive and self obsessed son, Jean-Michel (Neil McDermott). He wants to get married and wishes the blessing of Monsieur Dindon, the father of the bride to be. The Problem with this being M. Dindon is a rabble-rousing moralist pundit running for office and wants to meet the prospective in-laws before allowing the union to take place. As you can imagine, things do not go easily. Not wishing to spoil any of the plot, suffice to say this is a comedy and the laughs do keep coming, but it is also a very warm and touching piece where characters get to examine what love and care truly is.
Jason Pennycooke deserves a personal mention for his classy comic clowning as Jacob, the House-boy/Butler/Maid to Zaza. He always added to every scene he was in.
Fabulous set pieces by Les Cagelles, the tremendous in house cabaret and chorus, complete with diamante studded basques and feathers in places one wouldn't mention to Granny, help turn this versatile theatre space into a real nightclub environment.
The music, provided by a very tight band, was pitched just right for the environment and style.
Above all though, it is the relationship between Georges and Albin that drives the play, and Quast and Hodge have a magnetic connection on stage and share that with the audience.
To quote a line from one of Herman's songs – I had "the best of times".