Matthew Paluch sees La Cage aux Folles in the open air
|Title||La Cage aux Folles|
|Company||Regent's Park Open Air Theatre|
|Venue||Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London|
|Date||9 August 2023|
British summertime + outdoor theatre = dubious scenario.
Regardless, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre is home to a five-week season of La Cage aux Folles. The ‘present day' musical is the work of Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein (1983), with the original play by Jean Poiret (1973) also inspiring Édouard Molinaro's 1978 film and Mike Nichols' 1996 The Birdcage. And who can forget Robin Williams' infamous monologue, “You do Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham!”
The premise looks at (queer) identity and representation in the face of conservatism. 1973 you say? Try 2023!
On 9 August the sun was out, as were the punters, with picnic baskets and cold white wine being the general approach. On reading Artistic Director Tim Sheader's programme note pre-show, I was abruptly woken up from my bourgeoisie daydream and reminded of what a musical like La Cage aux Folles being performed means in some parts of the world, even the present-day democratic one. With the ongoing culture wars, the concept of Drag is being used as collateral to inform some very questionable, aggressive political agendas. Therefore, how lucky we are in the UK to not only allow for such things, but to actually celebrate them and offer an appropriate platform.
This production is one of those moments you won't forget. The talent onstage, the sensitivity of direction, and the mastery of the work itself.
Herman and Fierstein have created something near on impossible – a play within a musical. Gone are all the usual, awkward transitions one usually has to suffer with pointless dialogue to segue between songs. Instead, La Cage aux Folles is a deep, poignant work. One about a love story, its power and complexity, and with some mega songs, profound lyrics, and comedy turns thrown in for good measure.
This is all being realised by a truly extraordinary cast, and Carl Mullaney as Albin gives the performance of a lifetime. How to even describe the presence and character range he offers in the moment? My advice is to just buy a ticket ASAP and savour it all. His Georges, played by Billy Carter, is that wonderful mix of any real-life partner – he has Albin's back throughout, but also can't protect him from himself.
And the Cagelles. What a troupe. It's evident they're having the time of their lives doing the production, especially Stephen Mear's choreography. Mear doesn't need a critique by me, already being the stuff of legends both on Broadway and in the West End. The dance he's brought to this La Cage maintains his legacy – it's fresh, original, avant-garde and heady, and the cast more than rises to his challenge. Special moments include a can-can and a totally laugh-out-loud menagerie number. You'll howl.
Colin Richmond's set is the epitome of camp: equally decadent and decaying, and with the band in pride of place, centre back. As the bespoke stage doesn't really have wings, Richmond has employed wheels to make the scenes come and go with veritable ease, and it's a triumph. As are Ryan Dawson Laight's costume designs – when you think you can't take any more a candelabra headpiece arrives. Magnifique.
The whole cast is stellar, but special additional mentions must go to Ben Culleton's sensitive Jean-Michel, Shakeel Kimotho's flamboyant Jacob, Debbie Kurup's chic Jacqueline, Craig Armstrong's unlovable Edward Dindon, and Julie Jupp channelling Margaret Thatcher (visually) as Marie Dindon. I also loved the celebration of regional accents in the executions, giving the overall work even more sense of grounding.
I didn't want the performance to end, but also knew I was in the middle of a park, miles from home. Regardless of location convenience (for some), it's an absolute must-see of a show, and an incredible way for Tim Sheader to finish his tenure at Regent's Park before transferring his continued magic to the Donmar Warehouse. Lucky them. La Cage aux Folles has lots to offer, but its biggest takeaway (for me) is the importance of authenticity, and the absolute ‘fuck you' to anyone who tries to take yours away.
La Cage aux Folles runs until 16 September.
Matthew Paluch was awarded a place at The Royal Ballet School in 1990 where he graduated in 1997. His first four years as a professional dancer were spent working with London City Ballet, Scottish Ballet, K-Ballet and English National Ballet, becoming a full-time member of ENB until leaving in 2006.
Matthew graduated from the Royal Academy of Dance, Professional Dancers' Teaching Diploma in 2007, and was fomerly on faculty at The Royal Ballet School. He completed his Masters in Ballet Studies at Roehampton University in 2011 and has been a freelance writer since 2010. He is a Trustee (2021) of the Royal Academy of Dance and works in the Law Sector.