Thursday, 21 February 2019

REVIEW: Can-Can at the Union Theatre

“I used to be a Tour de Force – Now I’m forced to tour!”

In the latest production of The Phil Willmott Company, we flash back to the “naughty nineties” (1890s) in Paris where the Orpheus Theatre Troupe lives through ups and downs as company members join and quit, and the bankers have the power to ban performances in the whole city. Indeed, after the rich Monsieur Bontoux decides to close down the Orpheus, the troupe goes to the provinces to continue their art. In the meantime, Jane, the star of the show, leaves the troupe to marry Bontoux’s son, only to find out that a life outside the theatre is not worth living.

“Can-Can” is a joyful and comedic musical with music by Jacques Offenbach and his contemporaries and loosely based on a plot by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, adapted by Phil Willmott. I have to admit this wasn’t really my style: while the dancing was beautiful, the show lacked depth and true provocation. Then again, we are asked to transpose ourselves in a time when what was shocking really isn’t now: the decision to live a life of uncertainty through the arts, homosexuality, and revealing corsets. 

Therefore, I do appreciate the research and detail around these times which are not often staged anymore. The set design Justin Williams and Jonny Rust (who also designed the previous “The Enemy of the People”) centre the action around a stage which turns to reveal the audience’s viewpoint, the wings’ viewpoint as well as the outside. The colours are warm and smoke is all around, adding to the atmosphere. 

The choreography by Adam Haigh truly is the star of the show. The part where can-can girl Jane (Kathy Peacock) and Christian (Damjan Mrackovich) long to be back together after a long separation in particular was a beautiful piece, introducing contemporary dance into this piece of nostalgia. The joy of Margot Bontoux (Grace Manley) at being able to dance is palpable in her duo with James Alexander-Choux.

The best lines were spoken by the excellent Mark Garfield as the “Farting act”
and PK Taylor as La Goulue. Emily Barnett-Salter also stood out as Yvette with her strong character and continuous cigarette-smoking. Overall, this strong and big ensemble brought unique characters and the sense of gorgeous chaos and noise that one must have heard when approaching a theatre at the time. Apart from the dark banker Monsieur Bontoux, everyone wanted to have a piece of that. 

I would have enjoyed more diversity in the cast as well as perhaps two fewer people in order to possibly dig deeper into individual characters. 

This is a joyful evening with character and warmth filled with beautiful choreography and a finale which will make you want to stand up and dance around.

Review by Sophie Tergeist

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Free seating | Price of Ticket: £22.50
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