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Theatre Review: La Cage aux Folles ****

Michael Cox reviews 'an enjoyable triumph'.

It seems rather frightening how relevant La Cage Aux Folles is today. Here’s a musical from the 80s based on a play from the 70s and successfully Americanised in a film from the 90s that could just as easily be set in this very year.

And while it would be easy to view Folles in a modern and political light, at its heart the production is an old-fashioned grand musical, filled with big production numbers, catchy songs and great choreography, all bookended by a cheeky script filled with wit and a dash of heartbreak.

For those who know the original French play or its film adaptation (or The Birdcage for that matter), the set-up is the same: Georges (Adrian Zmed) runs the titular drag club and his partner Albin (John Partridge) is the star act. Together they raised a son: Jean-Michele, the result of a one-night stand Georges had over twenty years ago. Jean-Michele has fallen in love with Anne and they want to get married. Anne’s parents want to meet Jean-Michele’s family, but there’s only one problem: they are ultraconservatives who are campaigning against gay rights.

What makes the plot work so well is that Jean-Michele is actually a supporting player: this is all about Georges and Albin. Georges wants to help his son, but Albin is the love of his life (and acted as Jean-Michele’s mother); the cost of pretending to be a ‘straight’ family just might be too much for everyone.

While there are great moments throughout involving the farce that ensues when the families meet, the best moments are between Georges and Albin. Performers Zmed and Partridge are a terrific double-act as the long-standing couple, showing clear affection yet also knowing how to wind the other up. Zmed is charming in the more ‘straight man’ role, and there’s much fun to be had when he teeters between camp and serious. But the standout is Partridge, who not only revels in camp glamour (complete with a chorus of men in drag) but also nails the production's best numbers.

With terrific production values, a wonderful ensemble and a great script, La Cage aux Folles is an enjoyable triumph that more than earned the standing ovation it received at its press performance. Yet in these politically uncertain times where it appears equality is being chipped away, this production’s message of acceptance, love and understanding has become a voice that needs to be heard much more. That it does so with wonderful humour and glittering high heels makes it all the more irresistible.

La Cage aux Folles is at the Edinburgh Playhouse until March 11 before continuing its UK tour. It returns to Scotland later in the year.

Tags: theatre

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