Theatre review - La Cage Aux Folles at The Lowry, Salford

Georges & Albin in La Cage aux Folles, The Lowry Salford: Pamela Raith

Georges & Albin in La Cage aux Folles, The Lowry Salford: Pamela Raith - Credit: Archant

A feel-good spectacular of a musical that will have you smiling, laughing and wolf-whistling the whole night through. Kate Houghton writes.

Quite the chorus line. La Cage aux Folles, The Lowry Theatre: photo Pamela Raith

Quite the chorus line. La Cage aux Folles, The Lowry Theatre: photo Pamela Raith - Credit: Archant

La Cage aux Folles, is, at its heart, a love story. It’s 24 hours in the life of a loving couple, together for 20 years, who have raised a son and sent him out into the world where he discovers the woman of his dreams and brings her home to meet his parents.

Simple yes? Not so much. This loving couple are Georges, the owner of transvestite cabaret nightclub and his partner Albin, the leading lady of the show, a high voltage performer who takes the term diva to a whole new level. Georges’ son, Jean-Michele, has fallen for the worst possible woman in the light of his parentage; the daughter of far-right, anti-gay politician Edouard Dindon, who has sworn to close every immoral nightclub in St. Tropez. Desirous of introducing both sets of parents, Jean-Michele asks that Georges invite his birth mother, a woman who has basically ignored her son for most of his life, and ask Albin to stay away.

Song 7 dance spectacular: Photo Pamela Raith

Song 7 dance spectacular: Photo Pamela Raith - Credit: Archant

When this musical was first launched, in 1983, this premise would have seemed eminently sensible to most of its audience. Being openly gay in the 80’s was still far from the norm for many men and women, who remained tucked firmly in the closet and hid their true self from family and friends. Today of course, we accept and celebrate diversity, so our response to this announcement is more immediately one of shock and sadness. Today, we know what the right thing is. Today, we (should) need no education on the definition of loving parenting. Perhaps therefore our empathy with Albin, and his utter devastation at being told he is surplus to requirements, is enhanced. It’s equally possible however that it is John Partridge’s excellent performance in this role that delivers the message.

Partridge performs with the perfect balance of brittle and bold. His Zsa Zsa, Albin’s alter-ego, is gloriously over-the-top, as she belts out the big numbers, banters with the audience and struts her stuff in vertiginous heels. As Albin, he is fragile, touchy, manipulative and loving. This is a man who is what he is, and refuses to be re-framed as anything else - as the show’s key number makes clear. It’s a brilliant performance and far outstrips any other within the show.

That’s not to say that everybody else on stage doesn’t put in an excellent performance. Adrian Zmed (you may recall him from his days on TJ Hooker) is great in his role as father and as Albin’s long-suffering, always-adoring, partner. An unexpected pleasure is presented in the form of Albin’s ‘maid’, Jacob, played to the highest levels of high-camp by Samson Ajewole, who – with his legs to his armpits – regularly appears on a full-on French maid outfit to great and hilarious effect. And Marti Webb, in the role of restaurateur and eventual saviour of La Cage, is in magnificent voice.

Throughout the show we are presented with a series of spectacular song’n’dance numbers, with a chorus line of satin, silk and ostrich feather clad singer-dancers that made me think there was definitely a place for our very own Cage in Manchester. It would be packed every night if they could find their very own Zsa Zsa, trust me. The effect was so very like the old Hollywood musicals from the height of their popularity, with ripples of legs, dazzles of smiles and those huge feathered fans we all want to play with. The costumes were a joy in themselves and allied with the high-kicking, stair descending, whip-cracking exploits of our chorus line transported the audience straight back to those heady days.

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The term ‘feel good’ is much overused, but judging by the reactions of last night’s audience, perfect on this occasion. As the performance came to its climax, the audience came to its feet, a well-deserved ovation for a truly magnificent show.

La Cage aux Folles plays at The Lowry Salford till Saturday 17 June.