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Theatre Review: Cardboard Fox Double Bill (****)

Lorna Irvine reviews The Madness of Lady Bright and Mr & Mrs Laughton, part of this year's Glasgay festival.

Cardboard Fox Theatre Company present two brilliant plays examining gay sexuality, the ageing process, secrets and showbiz.

Lanford Wilson's The Madness of Lady Bright is a landmark play first premiered in America in 1964, a fairy-tale soured, curdling like cream. Ageing New York drag queen Leslie Bright, part Warholian superstar, part cherub, is lamenting her fading looks in a reversal of the 'mirror, mirror' speech from Snow White. Painfully lonely, her image which was once her currency on the gay scene is fading, and so too is her sanity. Only a fizzy, half-working radio, music from her stereo and sounds of the neighbours banging on the walls provide company, and nobody is answering the telephone. Even Dial-A-Prayer can't help this fallen Madonna.

From an elegant sashay to a crash to the floor, Michael-Alan Read effortlessly inhabits the capricious nature of Bright with acid put-downs and the childlike need for belonging, a wounded gay icon in corset, Victorian skirt and kimono, his face made up in colours which look like vaudeville glamour under a spotlight; bruises in daylight.

With fantastic support from Lynette Holmes and Martin McBride as Girl and Boy, their voices echo the fragmenting memories of friends and lovers and a sense of self undone. Brain buzzing like the radio, the tuning can never be fixed, and the ending is heart-breaking.

Mr. & Mrs. Laughton, written by Michael Alan Read, is also a little gem, crackling with the scattershot energy of Hollywood's Golden Age. Elsa Lanchester (Angela Cassidy) was a slender beautiful brunette, forever associated with frothy fare and the James Whale classic film The Bride of Frankenstein. Charles Laughton (Read) was a respected character actor and director, a little overweight with low self-esteem, describing himself as having 'a face that could stop clocks'.They found each other as co-stars and a tentative relationship formed, one that lasted for thirty-three years in spite of Laughton's affairs with younger men. Lanchester, played wonderfully by Cassidy as a sharp proto-feminist, simply turned a blind eye.

Sharing the kind of choreography only a married couple have, all knowing looks and in-jokes, this warm and wise piece shows how an often taciturn and grumpy man and a no-nonsense woman could share an understanding of the complexities of marriage and hidden sexuality. Lanchester is the solid centre of their partnership, yet they are very much equals who clearly adore each other.

Read's script hilariously skewers the braying of more overwrought Shakespeare 'ac-tors' and the clipped way of talking in RP, but tenderly resolves the couple's difficulties through shared readings of King Lear, which cemented Laughton's reputation on the stage.

A moving and slyly witty meditation on the enduring nature of love and acceptance—and acceptance speeches.

Cardboard Fox are a fantastic young company with more aces up their sleeves: catch them quickly before everyone else, and say you got there first.

For more information, go to

Twitter: @CardBoardFoxCO
Tags: theatre

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