The original La Cage aux Folles play

Before the four blockbuster films and Tony Award-winning musical we all know, the original La Cage aux Folles was a play written in 1973 by French actor, director and writer Jean Poiret. Now actor, author and director Simon Callow has translated La Cage aux Folles [The Play] for the first English language world premiere of the production at the Park Theatre. We spoke to Michael Matus who plays nightclub owner Georges and Paul Hunter who plays drag performer Albin, about the play and this special production.

Michael Matus plays Georges

Can you tell us about Georges, the St Tropez nightclub owner, and does the original Poiret play give new layers to him?

Oh bloody hell where do I start. Yes the writer gives him so many layers. It is starkly rumoured that the writer, Poiret, wrote this part for himself, because in the two hours that he is on stage he is only off for approximately two and a half minutes!

He has written a multi-layered beast of a character, one minute he’s a monster, abusing the staff, sacking a drag queen for getting her wife pregnant, screaming at his son, minimising the roles for his partner because he’s getting old and fat and hurling a tabloid journalist out of their home; and then the next minute he’s the gentlest, most loving, caring, sane boss, husband and father you’ve ever met. He is both clown and straight man, the beating heart and total control freak and he is the benign head of his large family of loons who work at La Cage aux Folles.

When did you first see La Cage aux Folles, was it the films, the musical?

When I was 14. The original French film, in French – I think dad thought it would help me with my French classes – so I watched it with my mum and dad. It was a big moment really. I had not seen anything before with gay content. And this was full on uber gay, incredibly funny and making my mum, dad and brother howl with laughter. It was an incredibly liberating and empowering moment.

How important is the original play to today’s debate about prejudice and discrimination?

Well it’s never stopped being important. I marched in the 80s, 90s and beyond for gay pride and have watched the movement turn from one of celebration to rage and to despair as we moved through the AIDS crisis, Section 28, Outrage, and then back to a huge swell of celebration and pride and joy and acceptance as gay marriage became a real thing and genuine equality looked entirely possible right up to now, with a Tory majority, a PM with utter contempt for gay people, openly validating a new growth of far right hate directed at gay people, trans people, immigrants and non-white people, before I go off on one, yeah, pretty important I’d say.

What’s your favourite line from your character in the play?

If I start picking favourite lines I’ll almost certainly jinx them, but here’s a moment, amidst all the fantastic comedy when I take my son to task for forgetting the huge fight and sacrifice that has taken place to feel accepted. That moment resonates like a bitch for me.

Paul Hunter plays Albin

Can you tell us about the Albin, the drag performer Zaza, and does the original Poiret play give new qualities to him?

Albin is a terrific character, so changeable, predictably unpredictable. He is very extreme emotionally which makes him great fun to play. I am approaching the part from a physical starting point and trying to exploit lots of contrasting rhythms. His drag persona feels like a performative extension of him, and as Zaza he can swing from Diva to waif, from Queen to innocent.

How as it been developing your drag queen persona, and putting on those flamboyant dresses?

It has been enormously liberating discovering the role of Zaza, and wearing the dresses and extraordinary makeup have felt like finding great freedom from behind a wonderful mask.

Why does the La Cage story still have relevance today?

I feel ‘La Cage’ still resonates today because its themes of following your heart and celebrating difference have never been more important.

What’s your favourite line from your character in the play?

My favourite line of Albin’s is when he is told by George that he can’t wear his pink socks or bracelets and he says:

‘I wish I had gone with my first idea.’

Georges – ‘Which was..’

Albin – ‘To Kill myself.’

The English Language World Premiere of La Cage aux Folles [The Play] by Jean Poiret is at The Park Theatre from 12 February to 21 March. Tickets from

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