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Review Roundup: LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (THE PLAY) at Park Theatre

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Review Roundup: LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (THE PLAY) at Park Theatre

La Cage aux Folles [The Play] is currently running at Park Theatre from 12th February - 21st March.

Jean Poiret's seminal classic spawned four blockbuster films and a Tony Award-winning musical. This new translation of the heartfelt farce by theatrical legend Simon Callow stars Michael Matus (Richard III - National Theatre and Headlong Theatre Tour, and King Lear - The Duke of York's Theatre) in the role of Georges and Paul Hunter (Founder of Told by an Idiot) as Albin. The cast is completed by Sarah Lam, Syrus Lowe, Peter Straker, Mark Cameron, Arthur Hughes, Simon Hepworth, Louise Bangay, Georgina Ambrey and William Nelson. It is directed by Park Theatre's Artistic Director, Jez Bond.

Let's see what the critics are saying...

David Nice, The Arts Desk: Park Artistic Director Jez Bond's approach isn't a bad one to begin with. With designer Tim Shortall's very gay sea-view apartment setting the scene, Georges (Michael Matus), Albin (Paul Hunter) and their "maid" Jacob (Syrus Lowe) project impressively in the small space as they consciously deliver to the audience; all they say and do is theatre, which at least means it's not stereotypical Seventies camp. The funniest scene belongs to Mark Cameron's butcher Zorba, developing a declaration of love for Brueghel the Elder's depiction of meat into a tearful paean to fine art: that's comic timing for you, and his exit won a well-deserved round of applause. Hunter's mug is made for comedy, and Lowe gets to show off a range of RuPaulish runway looks; Matus declaims with appropriate histrionics.

Catherine Sedgwick, The Upcoming: Unlike the spectacular Broadway musical extravaganza, Callow's translation of the dramatic version of La Cage aux Folles is unrestrained and not afraid to be raunchy. Based on the model of the French farce, the play could be likened to Molière with an LGBT twist. High-spirited and hysterically funny, it is an entertaining romp with an enduringly important social message about tolerating and celebrating our differences.

Tom Wicker, TimeOut London: Callow's translation of the French into idiomatic English works best in the furious barbs the harassed characters fling at each other. As Georges, Michael Matus is particularly good at making the funny bits sing, his eyes bulging as he seems perpetually on the edge of a breakdown. But without the show tunes and jazzy choreography of the musical, you're left with a more bitter aftertaste. Director Jez Bond is careful to have us laughing with the gay characters on stage, rather than at them, keeping the tone highly performative and 360-degree absurd. And yet - while he's not as blithely horrible as he is in the 1978 film version, another product of its time - Laurent remains a monumental dick for expecting his dad to let go of his staff and essentially wipe away every trace of who he is. Again, thanks in large part to Matus's performance, Georges's defence of his life choices still resonates. But this staging too often steers into the easy laugh of gay-on-gay viciousness in a way that feels unexamined.

Stephen Vowles, Boyz: Georges played by Michael Matus and Albin played by Paul Hunter are beautifully cast; these two are real troupers, old school masters of their craft and with a fine support ensemble with special mention to Syrus Lowe as Jacob, an awesome master of physical comedy and Peter Straker as Tabaro giving an enthusiastic performance as a downtrodden "Yes man" of an accountant by day, but longing to tread the boards at night and perform. Both pulsate with an energy that is so fitting for their roles. Laurent, Georges's son, played by Arthur Hughes is also very watchable showing perfect timing as the gags are played out. Finally Mark Cameron playing Marseilles and Zorba is a true scene stealer, making the most of his time on stage.

Paul Vale, The Stage: The production takes a while to gather momentum but by the second half, the pace quickens, the visual gags broaden and all the loose ends are neatly folded together. The play is violent, uncompromising and frankly quite weird in places, but director Jez Bond embraces this. His production casually breaks the fourth wall on several occasions and steers clear of naturalism in any way, shape or form. Tim Shortall's set design reflects this, looking more like a stage set than an actual reception room above a drag club in Saint-Tropez. Paul Hunter's drag queen Albin doesn't just play to the gallery either, although he is in danger of stealing the show on occasion. Michael Matus is marvellously harried Georges and there's magnificent support from Syrus Lowe as the ambitious maid Jacob, and Arthur Hughes as the wilful and obdurate Laurent.

Ray Rackham, British Theatre: Callow makes it clear that he wishes to not present this latest version as a fifty-year-old museum piece, but rather a living, breathing comedy of errors which just happens to be set fifty years ago. But the result seems somewhat self-aware and all too well-meaning, giving the play a dated air as soon as it starts. Jez Bond's direction is mainly mannered, but disjointed with an unruly breaking of the fourth wall, and one can't help but feel short-changed by both a new translation and direction that each feel safer than the original would have been in the early seventies. All of the elements are most certainly here, they just don't really appear to be harmoniously trying to achieve the same absurdly funny denouement; and of genuinely funny moments, there pervades at least a sense of deja vu from the previous films and musical; however brilliantly played in the present by the fine ensemble of actors on stage.

Terry Eastham, LondonTheatre1: Performance-wise, the show has a lot of highlights including my absolute favourite scene when Mark Cameron's butcher Zorba goes from explaining how to cook a joint of meat, in a very masculine way, to the declaration of love for art fine art and especially Brueghel the Elder's depiction of meat. A truly outstanding performance that earned Mark a huge round of applause following his exit. Additionally, you can't mention the cast without a huge round of applause to Syrus Lowe for his wonderfully over the top performance as Jacob. From his first appearance wearing very little but wearing it well to the final moments, Syrus nearly steals the show as Jacob contends with being straight, wearing flat shoes and having his ambitions dashed by the heartless George.

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