IHEAIRE REVIEW La Cage aux Folles
MENIER CHOCOLATE FACTORY
Artistic director David Babani has in a very short time turned the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark Street (just five minutes from London Bridge Station) into one of London's most successful fringe theatres. He has made a name for himself with miniature revivals of big Broadway musicals such as Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George and Alan Mertken and Howard Ashman's The Little Shop of Horrors. Both of them were excellent and transferred to the West End. His first-rate revival of Patrick Marber's best play, Dealer's Choice, is now at Trafalgar Studios.
Jerry Herman's musical, La Cage aux Folks, which is based on Jean Poiret's gay cult French play (1973), opened in New York in 1983, winning many awards and appealing to a non-gay audience. It was seen all over the world and came to the London Palladium in 1986. Herman's musicals include Mame , Hello, Dolly!, and Mack and Mabel.
Georges and Albin are a middle-aged homosexual couple who run a transvestite nightclub in St Tropez. Albin is horrified to learn that his partner's son, whom he has helped to raise, wants to marry a girl whose father is a homophobic politician and whom • they are expected to entertain without letting on that they are gay.
La Cage, tuneful, sentimental, farcical, cliched and old-fashioned, works amazingly well in a small space. Audiences at the Menier will feel that they are actually in a nightclub. Whatever you do, don't sit in the front row. Philip Quast is admirable as the suave discreet Georges. Douglas Hodge, surprisingly cast as the outrageous Albin, is very convincing as a drag artist, especially in his big number "I Am What I Am" and during the show-stopping "The Best of Times".
The History Boys
Alan Bennett's debate on education, which originally opened at the National Theatre in 2004 and was a huge success in New York, is hack in the West End for a second time and playing to full houses.
Desmond Barrit is now in the role so memorably created by Richard Griffiths and he is superb as Hector, the liberal (very liberal), open-minded (very open-minded) teacher of general (very general) studies, who thinks not only that exams are the enemy of education, but that education is the enemy of education. He does not restrict himself to anything as boring as a syllabus and his lessons embrace old songs, old movies and hilarious improvisations in French.
Hector's downfall is his habit of groping sixth formers while he drives them home on his motorbike. The students, absurdly precocious and intellectual, are more than able to look after themselves. The actors are very persuasive and there are especially good performances by Andrew Hawley as a very cocksure sixth former and Thomas Howes as a decent, sincere young Catholic.
The headmaster. a philistine preoccupied with league tables, has no idea how to quantify an inspirational teacher and wants to sack him. Worried that the boys may not get scholarships to Oxford, he brings in a young supply teacher, who teaches them slick gimmicks and advises them that examiners want spin, not truth. The teacher ends up as a glib television historian and adviser to the government, advocating that: "The loss of liberty is the price we have to pay for freedom."
The History Boys, funny, sad and pertinent, is a play which anybody interested in education should see, though I should perhaps warn you that, because of its subject matter, some people have dismissed it as "an apology for the molestation of pupils by teachers". It is, of course. absolutely nothing of the sort.