Re-Re-Review – La Cage Aux Folles with Graham Norton, Playhouse Theatre

Friday 23 January 2009

Apparently, Jonathan Ross is taking over the role of Edna Turnblad in Hairspray.

Sounds potty doesn’t it? And you were shocked when you read it. And it’s not true. Well, we suppose it could be true; and if it is, just remember you read it here first.

Anyway, the point is that numb disbelief was pretty much the Whingers’ sole reaction when they heard that Graham Norton was taking over the role of Albin in La Cage Aux Folles from the sublime Douglas Hodge.

Despite having hated its first incarnation at the Menier Chocolate Factory, the production became an instant all-time favourite when the Whingers saw it with Hodge and now they feel strangely protective of it. Can Norton really carry it off or will his dragging up drag the show back down again?But before that, let us acknowledge some people whose contributions were omitted in the Whingers’ previous review of the show:

  • Les Cagelles are unbelievably good, funny and breathtakingly physical. On Tuesday night two of them were played by understudies/swings – the wonderfully named Matt Krzan played Hanna and the wonderfully named Scott Spreadbury played Chantal. Indeed, Tuesday saw a whole McCutcheon of understudies (Jacob being played by Nolan Frederick) but none of it mattered a jot which must surely be the sign of a solid production.
  • Iain Mitchell is perfect as the right wing moralist Edouard Dindon and we should have mentioned it last time. Sorry.
  • Stuart Neal (as Jean Michel) has a lovely voice – he makes the lightweight “With Anne On My Arm” quite charming.


graham-noton-in-la-cage-aux-follesOk, Graham Norton isn’t Douglas Hodge, how could he be? How could anyone be? Well Michael (Blair/Williams/Blair/Frost/Clough/Blair) Sheen possibly could;  he can be anyone.

Norton can’t really quite sing and is sometimes almost excruciating to watch on the big notes and on Tuesday he played leap-frog with the orchestra causing them to slow down or chase to catch up at times in “I Am What I Am”

But this was only his third performance (and that’s counting the one where he stood in at the last minute for Hodge and his indisposed understudies) and, do you know what, he was surprisingly good. Actually, he was better than that.

He lacks confidence in the first half, but whatever it is that scares him (presumably “I Am What I Am”) is over by Act 2 when he relaxes a bit. He particularly gets into his stride when he’s impersonating Jean Michel’s dowdy mother.

Funnily enough we sometimes got the impression that he was trying too hard not to be Graham Norton. Some of the weaker bits were when he – as ZaZa – did some banter with the audience. This is the kind of thing that Norton can do standing on his head but here he seemed very uncomfortable.

If you’re expecting him to be so Graham Norton you’ll be surprised: he acts the role rather well and despite cavils about his singing performs “I Am What I Am” very movingly indeed. His triumphant “wig-off ” at the end of “The Best of Times” is hilarious.

When he storms off through the auditorium and into the street in full slap at the end of the first act, there was a huge laugh from those in the stalls who caught the expression of a startled passer-by outside the theatre.

As somebody just the other side of the river would say, this is something of a work in progress. But we hope Norton defeats his demons. He clearly doesn’t need the money and he’s clearly pushing himself outside his comfort zone. Of course, that’s not a good enough reason to pay to go and see a show but strangely (and despite the fact that neither Whinger is a particular fans of Norton) we found ourselves rooting for him. The rest of the audience were clearly behind him too, and didn’t appear to go home disappointed.   He could end up being very, very good indeed. And even if he doesn’t this production clearly has an amazing resilience to it.

By the way, do you want to pre-book your programmes and ice creams? Phil was invited to when he booked the tickets.


* We’re a bit scared that we might keep going back to this show like those crazy people with no taste who have seen Wicked or  Rent or Jersey Boys 47 times.  But if you’re feeling down and in need of some big-hearted theatrical therapy, La Cage is still the place to go.


23 Responses to “Re-Re-Review – La Cage Aux Folles with Graham Norton, Playhouse Theatre”

  1. J.A. Says:

    Seeing it again Monday, glad it’s not as bad as I’d imagined.

  2. Nothing wrong with “Wicked”, fellas.

  3. Amanda Says:

    I’m so pleased you enjoyed it! I was almost scared to read your review as we’ve already bought our tickets to see Graham! We’ve seen the show 3 times already, twice with Douglas and once with Adrian, I’ve never been to a musical before that I’ve just wanted to see over and over again! It really has that magical quality!

  4. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    Graham Norton is no stranger to drag, of a kind. I gave him his first ever proper (albeit short) review, in 1991, when he was clad entirely in blue and white teatowels and claiming to be Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It can be read at

    I blow my own trumpet because I can.

  5. mjs Says:

    EVERYTHING is wrong with”Wicked”.It is overblown,overwrought,over produced, overdesigned and a staggering waste of money.Theirs and yours.Give me La Cage any day.

  6. JohnnyFox Says:

    Maybe he has good days and bad days, but despite your admiration of his early promise on Tuesday, by Thursday he’d fallen completely apart and looked scared. Not only did his tempi provide a challenge for the orchestra, the notes he was singing bore little resemblance to the score.

    Norton is enormously talented in so many areas, raconteur, compere, sharp-witted comedian, that I wonder why he would put himself through this trial-by-glitter when he is outclassed by every chorus boy/girl and understudy in the singing, dancing and acting departments.

    But the show’s still strong, and still a feel-good choice when nothing else in this benighted country/city feels good at the moment!

  7. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    How does he juggle Eurovision/Cage duties? Is he doing a Lesley Garrett?

  8. I was there the same night as the Whingers but I sided with JohnnyFox’s interpretation – not a performance you charge up to £60 for.

  9. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    Well yes and no – at least with Norton they’re up front about it and list the dates that “due to prior filming commitments Graham Norton will not be appearing”.

    “doing a Lesley Garrett” should pass into the Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying, and Quotation.

  10. Brian Says:

    I saw it on Thursday and left at the interval.
    Graham Norton has one face, one note, one joke
    Nil points!

  11. Sam London Says:

    I’m quite shocked at how unattractive the in reality rather nice-looking Norton looks in drag. Reminds me of what Terence Stamp said about dragging up for “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”. He thought he’d look great as he’s a good look guy, but actually looked really horrible. Is there a way of knowing whether drag is for you?

  12. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    Yes Sam, get a wig, a frock and some slap and draw the curtains.
    BTW it’s not for Andrew.

  13. Sam London Says:

    You really would have thought Graham Norton would have tried that before now. Any views on the best looker in drag? Tim Curry in Rocky Horror, of course.

  14. JohnnyFox Says:

    Is “doing a Lesley Garrett” opting for 6 out of 8 weekly performances, or some other form of malingering in which case it’s “doing a Martine McEscutcheon”.

    But in all due deference it should really be called “doing an Elaine Paige” since the practice dates from June 1978.

    Although this phrase could cover many crimes against musical theatre, I refer to her then 40-a-day habit (some of which were cigarettes) which rendered her incapable of raising the wind to belt two episodes of Evita in a single day, and thereby boosting the fortunes of Marti Webb, etc. when it became contractually ‘traditional’ to excuse leading ladies from one weekday evening and a matinee, and announce a scheduled ‘alternate at certain performances’.

    None of which prevented Paige from ALSO having an understudy, Michele Breeze, who got several chances to perform.

  15. Booked to see this on 02/03 – so looking forward to it!

  16. Sam London Says:

    They should get Jude Law next. He looks amazingly good in drag! Actually, probably far too good.

  17. Kate Says:

    Any comments about Steven Pacey’s performance?

  18. Karen Segal Says:

    I saw La Cage last night 18th Feb and thought it was simply fabulous, Graham Norton was really excellent and deserved the standing ovation that we all gave him…the whole cast were outstanding. Excellent well done it is just what London needs on a cold February night after such an appalling start to the year…..Let’s have more entertainment like this please….

  19. marylou Says:

    I have never been a fan of Graham Norton and was not particularly keen to see this show. We went on 6th March, and I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable,very funny,and very moving at times. It was a very good cast, and Graham’s singing, although not great, was particularly good when he sang ‘I am what I am’ with such passion. It seems as though his performance must have greatly improved since the earlier dire reviews, and I would encourage anybody to go and see him now. It is a superb show.

  20. […] up his tawdry little career.  Go and see Graham Norton in La Cage instead.  He’s been getting surprisingly ok […]

  21. Mark H Says:

    Have just seen Graham Norton saturday evening performance 11th April. What a star…..and not in a predictable way. reminded me of Judy dench playing Sally bowles….acting her way through a part that actually benefits from delivery that is about determination not musical ability. Minelli’s performance on film is fabulous, but insofar she clearly is a star it works against the script and character because Sally is a failure in life and a performer who is delusional and from that the narrative is driven.

    Here Norton’s determination to get through the song adds much dramatically….and good on him for being so fearless. it adds much to the character in the way that judy Dench achieved for Sally Bowles. Norton is superb in commanding prescence on stage and knows when he needs to be the focus of attention and in the way of real stars…..when that attention needs to be with another character. He is generous to others onstage when needed. he delivers lines superbly and is a wonderful comic actor. The stage always has energy when he is on it.How fab to get a real sense of this drag show in all its backstage shades of life rather than the glossy unreality we got got at the paladium years ago . and how many actors would burst onto the street in drag and wigless for all to see!!!

    Having seen Norton am convinced this show benefits from an actor playing Alban and “acting” the songs to push the narrative as he does.

  22. AJK Says:

    Saw this last night and if I hadn’t been with four others (who I noticed had their fidgety, clock-watching moments also) I might not have waited for the interval before I left. As it was I _had_ to stay the whole course.

    I am of course spoilt because my formative CaF experience was the Molinaro film which broke too many barriers and was too important at that time in the struggle for gay rights to see it now as a star-vehicle for GNorton. Nothing edgy or ground-breaking about the struggles of being gay and camp if you are already a celebrity and adored partly (mostly) precisely because you are gay and camp.

    So cards were stacked against it in the AJK expectation book and lo it did not disappoint. It was grim. Or rather, it was pedestrian; which is of course much worse for a play billed as such a flamboyant experience. The Cagelles were un-take-your-eyes-offable what bums ooh la la. Georges looked like a cross between Boycie out of Only Fools & Horses and Gordon Brown while the son looked like Michael J Fox. Both adequate with no fire and why should there be? The idea that prospective in-laws would be quite so shocked at having a gay son-in-law is relatively dated although I do appreciate that the battle does still have to be fought outside theatreland up and down the country.

    And so to Norton. I think the whingers have it right. Here is, after all, a role made almost exactly for him and yet he seems determined to rid himself of all the Norton/Albin characteristics that the audience would have loved (they loved him anyway) and which would have been wholly appropriate in the role. He is a better Albin in Just a Minute than he was here. His singing was disastrous but again who cares had he tipped us the wink that he knew it was disastrous; if you’re going to camp it up camp it up. His acting was a bit all over the place also and the wig-taking-off makeover was used once too much to have too much impact.

    So, in all, perversely, a production that aimed to expose the plight of those living outrageous lifestyles failed because it somehow wasn’t outrageous enough. It recalls the words of a friend who, after seeing La Maitresse at the Scala when that was edgy (remember then?) commented at its almost total lack of pure, undiluted filth: “I came here to be disgusted and I am disgusted.”

  23. […] – Playhouse Theatre By webcowgirl On Friday I had the magnificent opportunity to see a well-reviewed play with a topic/theme I found intriguing at the WORLD’s best price ever. Let me be clear about […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: