Can-Can! at Union Theatre
A loud “yeeeee” hurdles through the small theatre as four women, dressed in 1890s-style cancan outfits, high kick across the stage. They are accompanied by four men doing split jumps, leaps and rolls. The music is too loud, and it feels like someone could get kicked in the face at any moment, but the energy is high, the dance moves are amazing and we can’t help but clap along.
Can-Can! is loosely based on the 1980s comedy play Trelawny of the Wells by Arthur Wing Pinero. Both tell the tale of a young performer (Jane in Can-Can!) who tries to give up the stage for love, only to find herself trapped in a strict, rigid household with a tyrannical patriarch. Unable to adapt to her new life, Jane goes back to her theatre troupe with a broken heart while her fiancé (Christian) runs away to join a company of his own. With spectacular police chase/can-can routine, a musical fart sequence and a lot of theatrical mayhem, the production is an ode to life, liberty and the pursuit of the stage.
This operetta swaps Trelawny’s British setting for Paris during the “naughty 90s” – the 1890s – and loosely bases the characters on figures from the Bohemian movement around that time, such as Jaques Offenbach, La Goulue, Toulouse as well as the real-life Bontoux banking family. The costumes and versatile moving stage set the scene well and, while the performance area is small, it is easily adapted from a dance hall to a stately home to a deserted fairground.
Kathy Peacock (Jane) manages to show off her operatic vocal chords without deafening the audience and she gives an equally strong performance as a dancer and actor. Lauren Wood (Fifi) and Sarah Kacey (Francesca) have small parts as ladies’ maids, but their beautifully tuned operatic voices remain a highlight of the show. The cancan boys bring high energy and spectacular leaps, split jumps and floor work to the mix, but the can-can girls hold their own and there is not a weak dancer to be seen.
Can-Can! doesn’t have the most hysterical script, but some of the lines – “I was a tour de force and now I’m forced to tour” – get a big laugh. Some of the musical numbers, such as La Goulue’s (Richard Harfst) sequence with the cancan boys, are hilarious, while Jane and Christian’s Ballet and Margot and Jaques’s Tango are beautifully choreographed and skilfully performed. The storyline is a little rushed, but the subplot of the romantic history between tyrannical Monsieur Bontoux (Phil Willmott) and La Goulue is very touching and convincingly portrayed.
This operetta drags a bit during the first act, but it raises the bar during the final numbers and ends on a jaw-droppingly energetic finale. If you like the can-can, the theatre, France or a bit of music hall humour, you should watch this show.
Photos: Scott Rylander
Can-Can! is at Union Theatre from 6th February until 9th March 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.