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Andrew Bewley

Review: LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at Wimbledon Theatre

La Cage aux Folles  - New Wimbledon Theatre La Cage Aux Folles is a ground breaking piece of work. Written in 1983 the show is based around the relationship of female impersonator Albin and businessman Georges (played by John Partridge and Adrian Zmed) a gay couple who have been living together for twenty years, run the cabaret nightclub which gives the show its title and where Albin stars in drag as Zaza, and they've brought up George’s heterosexual son.

Unfortunately it still feels twenty years ahead of his time. In 1983 writer Harvey Fierstein was asking the question “why do we find this idea so odd?”. Sadly in 2017 it's still rare that a piece of theatre actually places a gay relationship at the centre of the story.

It is a musical that celebrates identity, right from the opening number, delivered by the night clubs female impersonators Les Cagelles who sing "We are what we are/And what we are is an illusion”.

I couldn’t help but feel like the lyric applied to the entire audience. Many of us have a side to our identity that we aren’t comfortable sharing — so why do some people deny happiness and freedom of those who do openly express who they are. Jealousy? Resentment? Fear?

Unfortunately this production never takes the time to address serious points like this. Someone seems to have decided that nearly every line should be played out to the audience as if the show were a pantomime. Subsequently, jokes are either overplayed until any humour is beaten out of them, or are completely lost because of the heightened style of acting.

However, there are some genuinely brilliant aspects to the production. Partridge is excellent: as fearless a performance as I have seen this year and one which will make me see his next piece of stage work. He has a wonderful ability to balance playing to an audience before quickly jumping back into the moment of the actual scene. The celebrated closing number of Act 1, I am What I Am in which Albin asserts his belief in himself and refuses to conform packs the show's only emotional punch.

Unfortunately, his stage-partner, Adrian Zimed, was not charismatic enough to carry such an audience-interactive role, and also rather wooden in moments that required any sort of emotion. Truth be told, it was very often difficult to believe that Albin would have been with Georges.

The design by Gary McCann is incredible. The set is textured, authentic, subtle and a perfect compliment to the action, whilst the costumes - particularly the ones worn by Les Cagelles - are scene-stealers.

During the curtain call nearly every member of the audience was on their feet and it was evident that the vast majority had had a wonderful evening of theatre. That's really great, but for me this production was performed too broadly and a missed opportunity to make some important points amongst the sequins and Jerry Herman's fabulous songs.