Theatre Review: La Cage Aux Folles, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

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Image Source: ATG

Written By: Scott Gunnion

Format: Musical
Genre: Comedy
Date: July 4 2017
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre

Drag can be fabulously entertaining when done right, and not diminished by indiscriminate references and cheap innuendo. And this was a production that did drag proud. It could easily have played it for simple laughs.

As the first act unfolded, peppered as it was with one visually impressive but largely irrelevant drag routine after another, I got the feeling that this would be a play with no plot. All glitter, no substance. But I was wrong.

The play really comes into its own in the second act. The physical comedy in the scene where Georges tries to teach Albin to act masculine by walking like John Wayne (or Jeremy Clarkson) was comic gold.

Those familiar with The Birdcage won’t have felt let down.

John Partridge was excellent as Albin, in all his effeminate splendour. But there was the matter of his accent, delivering each line with this piercing Lancashire twang as though it was on loan from the Bradford and Bingley, or sponsored by Plus Net Broadband. It reminded me of when Michelle Collins made the jump from EastEnders to Coronation Street, dodgy Blackpool accent in hand (“Leanne, I’m your mam”).

As a play and as a comedy it was great, but as a musical it was desperately lacking in memorable musical numbers, putting aside “I am what I am” which is culturally recognisable in its own right. This was no Chicago. You couldn’t – and wouldn’t – go out and buy the soundtrack. You’d be better off buying Shirley Bassey’s version of “I am what I am” for 99p on iTunes.

The best bit of all was when an elderly man in the audience, complete with walking stick, attempted to storm out but could only hazard a staggard. “I’ve had enough of this”, he said. “This is too much”. I loved it. Nothing was topping that.

There were moral undertones of equality and acceptance, but they were never thrust at the audience. In fact, the sporadic groans and bursts of applause from the audience in support of obvious moral posturings were largely unsolicited. The play was unpretentious and well-delivered and, void of smut, accessible to all ages.

There was a pretentious fellow reviewer sat a few seats away, namedropping Shakespeare and boasting about writing his review. “What is he possibly going to take away form this?” I thought: “The sequins were ethically-sourced and environmentally-friendly”?

If you appreciate unpreachy comedy, dodgy accents and a bit of magic and sparkle, then this comes highly recommended. Just don’t expect a sing-song because this is no Mamma Mia.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good