La Cage aux Folles at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Nestled in the forested space of the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, this summer’s theatre sensation is just waiting be discovered: director Tim Sheader’s revival of Jerry Herman’s musical version of La Cage Aux Folles (based on the French farce by Jean Poiret). Packed with drag, dance, drama and self-determination, this production is nothing less than a dazzling triumph.
For one night only, master of ceremonies Georges (Billy Carter) invites his audience to a St Tropez cabaret club of “ill-repute” – the infamous La Cage Aux Folles. However, there’s trouble behind the curtains when his son, Jean-Michel (Ben Culleton), wants to bring his new fiancee’s ultra-conservative parents back to meet the family. As her mother and father aren’t aware of Jean-Michel’s queer parents, Georges is told that his histrionic, but heavenly drag queen partner, Albin (Carl Mullaney), must be kept away. When Albin doesn’t agree, a collision of world views seems destined to end in disaster.
Appearances – as the play keeps reminding us – are deceiving. Under the pale light of an overcast summer’s evening, Colin Richmond’s mouldy, dilapidated art deco set and scattered props look thrown together amateurishly. However, as the night descends and Howard Hudson’s vibrant, nostalgic lighting design kicks in, the atmosphere utterly transforms. Much like a drag queen, the stage is soon covered in enough glitz and glamour to become glorious.
True pizzazz comes from a sublime ensemble that delivers both deft dancing and gutsy attitudes. Les Cagelles descend and, whether by Stephen Mear’s thrilling choreography, Ryan Dawson Laight’s divinely designed costumes, or the sheer punch in their vocals, the audience are kept entranced throughout. Richard Weeden’s Band support with terrific gusto, despite being kept behind an arch with gaudy drapes. This fabulous troupe orbit a fabulous principal duo: Carter is wily yet sweet as the impresario who must juggle the play’s humour and poignancy; Mullaney is a force all his own – one moment, he is beguiling the audience as extravagant diva Zaza, and the next belting out I Am What I Am with such an emotionally raw edge that it will bring tears to your eyes.
After the recent homophobic attack in London, there is a sad timeliness to this production, yet the play’s embracing message of pride is the perfect tonic to such troubling times. As Sheader’s wonderful revival whirls on into the night, one doesn’t want its sheer exuberance and defiance to end. Theatre lovers should make sure to get in and see La Cage Aux Folles before it closes!
La Cage aux Folles is at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre from 29th July until 23rd September 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.