Camp extravaganza glitters and glistens but is not all gold

La Cage aux Folles - John Partridge as Albin
La Cage aux Folles - John Partridge as Albin
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WELCOME to La Cage Aux Folles, a club where nothing is ever as it seems.

The Playhouse

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Bill Kenwright’s new touring production of Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman’s award-winning musical is a dazzling celebration of all that is camp.

Gloriously so, thanks to Gary McCann’s gorgeous set and costume design; his use of reds, golds, turquoises and purples, along with an exquisite peacock motif, is simply stunning.

Sadly what this production scores in style, it looses in substance, due to its casting.

La Cage Aux Folles tells the story of Georges, the manager of a Saint Tropez nightclub, and his partner, Albin, a drag artiste and the club’s star attraction.

Georges and Albin live an idyllic existence in the south of France but behind the curtains, all is about to change when Georges’ son Jean-Michel becomes engaged to the daughter of a notorious right-win politician who is determined to close down La Cage Aux Folles.

When a meeting of the parents force Georges and Albin to cover up their vibrant lifestyle, will Albin be able to play the role of his life to ensure that Jean-Michel can marry his love?

A farce bursting with dated stereotypes, La Cage Aux Folles may be of its time but continues to carry a message of acceptance and tolerance that is perhaps more poignant and relevant now than ever.

Assured and endearing, Adrian Zmed makes a likeable Georges, while West End veteran Marti Webb proves she can still belt out the big numbers as Jacqueline, Albin’s friend.

Talking of Albin, he should be a tragic character, a man coming to terms with the passing of time, the loss of his youth, and of his looks.

Vulnerable, his neurosis is driven by a need not to be admired, but to be loved for who he is.

Get that right and his transformation from Albin to female alter-ego Zaza is truly spectacular.

In the role, John Partridge appears seldom vulnerable and much too young. Instead of a warm, caring, if high maintenance, gone to seed female impersonator, we have Albin the drag queen with a bizarre ‘Oldham’ accent that often makes delivery unintelligible.

It’s a self-indulgent performance that adds at least 10 minutes, if not more, to an over-long first act.

Shimmering in a myriad of glittering feathered showgirl costumes the club’s ‘notorious and dangerous’ Les Cagelles do a nice line in clumpy man-dancing that adds to the comedy.

A rousing rendition of The Best of Times proves a highlight of the night, while another favourite, We Are What We Are, goes down well enough to somehow elicit a standing ovation from many in the audience.

Run ends Saturday