Welcome to the mad house


A new production of the legendary Broadway hit musical La Cage Aux Folles will be bringing some sunshine and glitz to our theatre in January. In anticipation of its visit, we take a look at the background to the story.

Let’s deal with the title first of all. ‘La cage aux folles’ literally translates as ‘the cage of mad women’. In this case, the ‘mad women’ are actually drag queens, who perform at a club of the same name, in St Tropez in the south of France. The club is owned by Georges (played by Hollywood and Broadway star Adrian Zmed), whose partner Albin (John Partridge, recently seen at our theatre in Chicago) is the club’s star drag performer.

This idyll is disrupted when Georges’ son – from a brief youthful relationship with a woman – announces his engagement to the daughter of a right-wing politician, the leader of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party, leading him to ask his father and Albin to cover up their lifestyle.

Having developed from a 1973 French play, which was also made into a highly popular French film, the musical opened on Broadway in August 1983. It received a warm reception, despite producers’ worries about depicting a gay couple on stage at the height of the panic about AIDS. This initial production ran on Broadway for four years, and long before Priscilla set out across the Australian desert, became one of the first shows to bring drag into the mainstream.

British theatre in particular has a long and honourable tradition of men dressing up as women – if you don’t believe me, think about the pantomime dame – but drag took a bit longer to become mainstream.

But, what exactly is drag, and where does the term come from? Although Albin in La Cage uses his background a drag performer to try to pass as a woman, most modern practitioners would say there’s more to being a drag queen than just dressing as a woman. The American drag queen RuPaul says: “I do not impersonate females! How many women do you know who wear seven-inch heels, four-foot wigs, and skintight dresses?…I don’t dress like a woman; I dress like a drag queen!”.

Interestingly, there’s no agreement on the origin of the term ‘drag’, although it dates back to at least the 1870s. One suggestion is that it may simply be an acronym, standing for ‘dressed resembling a girl’. A more exotic explanation it that it comes from the Romany word for skirt, ‘daraka’, possibly travelling via Polari, the slang language used by the gay community right up until at least the 1960’s.

Wherever the term comes from, the flamboyance of drag is now part of the entertainment mainstream. In 2008, the cast of the West End production of La Cage Aux Folles were even part of the Royal Variety Performance.

La Cage Aux Folles: Tuesday 24 – Saturday 28 January. Book here.

Dick Whittington: the reviews are in!


Our panto is up and running for another year, and we think we’ve delivered another great show – but do the critics agree?

Well, yes, actually…

Reviews Hub gave us five stars, promising, “you will not be disappointed.” As well as lots of praise for our very talented cast, they say: “Evolution Productions has spared no expense with the special effects and costumes. Get your 3D glasses ready, prepare to marvel at some top draw magic tricks. And let’s not forget the legendary ghosts, which do seem to get bigger and better every year.”

We got four stars from industry bible The Stage, who said: “They know how to put on a show at The Marlowe… with Paul Hendy and his team striking a successful balance between much-loved tradition and pop culture fun,” before adding: “the cast is tireless and their performances are underpinned by strong production values.”

Sardines Magazine described it as a, “gleaming Rolls Royce of a pantomime”. (Nothing but the best for our audiences!) and says of our star “Stephen Mulhern as Billy brings oodles of stage presence, charm, and, of course, magic.”

Kent Online were also enthusiastic, saying it had, “top notch music, effects, a 3D scene,” and adding, “it’s been a while since I’ve laughed so hard.”

The Theatre Things blog said, “there’s so much to love in Paul Hendy’s production” including, “Stephen Mulhern, who charms us with his scene-stealing tricks and infectious giggle.” There’s also praise for our regular twosome Ben Roddy (as Dolly The Cook) and Lloyd Hollett (Captain Crabstick) who are described as “a joy to watch.”

Finally, another blog, Talk Stagey To Me concludes their review by saying: “Audiences are guaranteed to leave with a smile on their faces, and at the end of the day that is exactly what pantomimes are all about.”

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves!

Dick Whittington: Until Sunday 8 January. Book here.

Meet the beast


We’d like to introduce you to our latest Made By The Marlowe production, which will be premiered in The Marlowe Studio in January.

 Run The Beast Down is an exhilarating theatrical journey performed with a live electronic score, a boundary-pushing hybrid of theatre and music, combining elements of storytelling, dark comedy and magical realism with a pulsing soundtrack. Excited yet? We certainly are.

The play takes the banking crash of 2007 as its starting point, but then heads off in some very unexpected directions, to tell the story of Charlie, who’s lost his job and is suffering from insomnia – and finds himself being haunted by an urban fox. What on earth is going on – and is it real or in his head? The mystery twists its way towards a city in flames and a Kendal Mint Cake-fuelled murderous showdown…

It’s the first full-length play by Titas Halder, who also works as a theatre director, having trained under the likes of Michael Grandage and Jamie Lloyd. Directing duties on Run The Beast Down will however fall to Hannah Price, who previously directed Boa, starring Harriet Walter, at the Trafalgar Studios.

One of the great excitements for us of this production is that we’ve been involved with the play from almost its very beginnings. The script was developed through our Roar! New Writing programme. This helps writers develop plays they’re working on, through mentoring and allowing them to work with actors, so they can hear their words being spoken. Run The Beast Down was one of the first plays to receive the full Roar! treatment, which culminated in a rehearsed reading of the show, for staff from The Marlowe and our partner organisations.

Roar! focuses on plays with real potential to be produced in the UK – we’re very excited to be working with Libby Brodie Productions to bring this one to life. After its run with us, Run The Beast Down will also be performed at the Finborough Theatre in London, one of the capital’s leading theatres for new writing.

The production is supported by The Marlowe Theatre Development Trust.

Run The Beast Down: The Marlowe Studio, Tuesday 24 to Saturday 28 January. Book here.

Miles Jupp: A song of discombobulation

Miles Jupp, Monmouthshire, Nov. 2015

We find out what to expect from comedian Miles Jupp’s new show from the man himself.

The show is entitled Songs Of Freedom, and Miles describes it as: “A rant about me, you, domestic imprisonment, fatherhood, having to have opinions, hot drinks, the government, bad balance, housing, ill health, the ageing process, navigation and other people’s pants”.

As you may have guessed, Miles is someone who can be “discombobulated” by modern life. Take a recent incident at the house he shares with his wife, Rachel, and their five children in the Welsh borders. “I can get angry very, very quickly about inanimate objects, particularly if they don’t do what I want them to do,” says Miles. “We’ve just had a new boiler put in and I can’t operate it. I’ve read the instructions but it’s got this enormous control panel and I don’t understand it, or for that matter why it makes the radiators come on at 3am. The man who installed it has to come back and talk us through it.

“And now we have bought a smart TV and, after not having had a television for eight years, it’s all slightly baffling. It’s the equivalent of going on a yoga retreat and in the intervening time the industrial revolution has happened. “What’s going on? I don’t know how to use a loom…”

“Of course our seven-year-old understands how the TV works perfectly, but I can’t very well go and wake him up at midnight and say, “We want to watch Peaky Blinders, come and find it for us…” In case you’re thinking that Miles is a man born out of his time, he goes on to wax lyrical about the reversing camera in the family car. “It’s just brilliant,” he says. “It’s just that I am slightly out of kilter with the modern world and I do come at things from a different angle sometimes.”

Many of Miles’ fans will be keen listeners to Radio 4’s topical comedy show The News Quiz, which he took over as host of last year, and which he is enjoying enormously. “I love working as part of a team, and I hope people listening get some sense of me as a person, rather than just some bloke capable of reading stuff out loud.”

Miles’ father was a minister in the United Reform Church and he himself studied Divinity at Edinburgh University. While still a student there he started acting and, for those of a certain age, he will forever be Archie the Inventor in CBeebies’ Balamory. “I often get people come up to me and start talking about it,” he says. “For me it was a long time ago, but for them it’s a defining part of their childhood.”

Apart from The News Quiz, people know Miles from television as fusspot Nigel in the ecclesiastical comedy Rev, as Captain Fanshaw in soldiering comedy Gary Tank Commander, as John Duggan in The Thick Of It and from his self-penned In And Out Of The Kitchen, in which he played minor celebrity chef Damian Trench. Miles says In And Out Of The Kitchen won’t return to the BBC, but he is currently writing Damian’s memoir, due for publication later this year.

He also appeared as the valet of Greystoke in The Legend Of Tarzan, which was released earlier this year in July, and is Blackberry in an upcoming new adaptation of Richard Adams’ Watership Down for the BBC, part of a star-studded cast that includes Sir Ben Kingsley, Gemma Arterton and John Boyega from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

He usually gets to play posh and/or clever chappie roles, but says he would really love to be cast as a baddie. Is this because, as an unfailingly polite man, he would love to play against type? Miles agrees: “You would get to cut loose and say bad things. You can be unpleasant without having to apologise for it.”

In the meantime, audiences at his live shows will be able to enjoy the real version of Miles having a rant at modern life’s multiple irritations – politely, of course, without a hint of unpleasantness but with a lot of laughs.

Miles Jupp: Songs Of Freedom: Friday 13 January. Book here.






Body talk


We take a look a studio show exploring science and the human body, coming to The Marlowe Studio next month.

“I was born on 18 December 1988. I dressed up as a bandicoot once. I was diagnosed with cancer 2,102,000 minutes ago…”

So begins the eulogy of Toby Peach. A eulogy is a celebration of life – some day we’ll all need one, but Toby has chosen to deliver his now, after twice being diagnosed with cancer – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma to be precise – the first time aged 19, and the second time at 21.

Toby – yes, he is a real person – has now been in remission for five years, and is telling his story in this one-man show, to raise awareness of a disease that’s now forecast to affect one in two of us. You might think that a show about cancer would be a bit depressing, but this one has a definite ‘sense of tumour’ (get it?). It’s both uplifting and funny – join Toby as he joins the not so elusive ‘Cancer Club’, tries a chemotherapy cocktail, and marvels at Willy Wonka’s amazing stem cell machine…

Toby himself is a theatre maker, who was on the BBC Performing Arts Fund’s ‘One To Watch’ list in 2015. He’s worked at the Old Vic, the Battersea Arts Centre and The Bush Theatre to name but a few – and as his show is supported by the Wellcome Trust, the world’s largest medical research charity, you can be sure that it will be medically accurate, as well as entertaining.

As well as describing the show as “heartfelt and buoyant”, The Stage says that Toby tells his story by, “superbly clowning against the dark while educating and informing with sensitivity and verve”. A Younger Theatre describes the show as “a charming celebration of survival”, while The Scotsman concluded that, “Toby looks and acts like a Superhero”. Definitely one to watch!

The Eulogy Of Toby Peach: The Marlowe Studio, Saturday 3 & Sunday 4 December. Book here.

Ten questions to… Ben Roddy


We get to know our panto dame a little better, as he answers our quickfire questionnaire.

Best experience on stage?
It was probably the Edinburgh Playhouse, which seats 3,000 people. I was playing Mr Collins in Pride And Prejudice, who’s the light relief, and getting a laugh from 3,000 people is an amazing experience.

Worst experience on stage?
I was in a farce once, and during one performance, half way through, the set slumped forwards, meaning we couldn’t open and close the front door, so for the whole of act 2 we had to make all our entrances and exits through the window. It brought the house down though, so it wasn’t all bad.

Best thing about Canterbury?
The Marlowe. It’s brilliant, the best theatre in the country. It’s a real jewel in the crown. It’s fantastic to play in, and it has fantastic shows here. I’m on stage here, but I’m also a punter.

Greatest remaining ambition?
I’d love to do more Shakespeare.

If you could have a superpower which one would you choose?

First appearance on stage?
With the National Youth Music Theatre, at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, when I was 11. I’d done school plays before that, but that was my first proper stage appearance, in Captain Stirrick.

Guiltiest pleasure?
A good burgundy.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Lloyd Hollett! No, maybe not… I don’t know. Actually, yes, Lloyd Hollett. That would be fun!

Favourite role you’ve played?
Dame, obviously. It’s great, and I just love it. The audiences are so fantastic. Apart from that, I really enjoyed Cassio in Othello, that’s a great role. I recently played Tom the Vet in Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests, and that’s a very satisfying role. It’s always the next part that I’m most looking forward to, though.

How do you relax?
I like cricket, I love listening to cricket. I like playing with my son. Me and my son go swimming in the sea a lot, we go to Whitstable and swim. I think a day that you have swum in the sea has not been a wasted day.

Ten questions to… Lloyd Hollett


Our panto funnyman Lloyd Hollett answers our quickfire questionnaire.

Best experience on stage?
It has to be asking my wife to marry me, at the end of Sleeping Beauty. There’s not much that can top that, that was pretty magical. Having her family there, and mine. Nobody knew I was going to do it, I didn’t know if she was going to say yes –  but she did.

Worst experience on stage?
My trousers split during the bathroom scene in panto one year. Showing my bottom to 1,200 school children on a 10.30am show was not a highlight of my career.

Best thing about Canterbury?
The Marlowe Theatre.

When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be in the panto! I wanted to come and perform in the show here. I used to come every year, from when I was five years of age, when I saw Dick Whittington, with Robert Powell. I’ve still got the programme.

Greatest remaining ambition?
I want to be in a farce. I’ve done some in the past, but I’d  like to do more of them.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
From a comedy point of view: if you’re heckled, try and embrace it, and let them join in, and try and see it as funny, not a bad thing. If you can incorporate them, nine times out of 10 it shuts them up.

If you could have a superpower what would it be?
I’d quite like to fly, so I could get to my gigs quicker, as opposed to driving for hours.

Guiltiest pleasure?
My cats.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Dame Edna.

How do you relax?
Gardening. I can spend hours in the garden, digging away, watering the plants.