REVIEW: La Cage aux Folles, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until June 24.

La Cage aux Folles
La Cage aux Folles

If ever a show hits the spot, it’s this one. In our troubled, troubling times, you couldn’t possibly wish for a more compelling, more enjoyable plea for decency, understanding and a great big dose of live and let live.

All of which sounds a bit heavy and preachy. The show is nothing of the sort. The show is an absolute blast, built on the back of dazzling, big-hearted performances and the highest production values to send you out on the most unbeatable high.

It’s just possible you’ll spend the first 20 minutes wondering what on earth you are in for, especially if drag is not your bag.

But John Partridge, star of the show, will ease you out of your closet in no time with a superb performance, huge on energy, heart and glamour.

In the first half, the story is swamped just a little by the big drag-club dance numbers; but in the second, the story shines – and engulfs you in its warmth and humanity.

Partridge is drag artist Albin, otherwise known as Za Za and the star of la Cage aux Folles. A heart-on-the-sleeve diva, his heart is also in the right place as he enjoys an idyllic existence in St Tropez with the love of his life, Georges, beautifully played by Adrian Zmed.

But then the complications set in.

Georges’ son (by a very different relationship) Jean-Michel announces his engagement to the daughter of a notorious right-wing politician, the very man determined to close down the local colourful night-life.

Jean-Michel is determined to pass Georges off as a “normal” dad. But what on earth do they do about Albin? And just where do Albin’s feeling come into it all?

The answers are hilarious, but just as importantly, they are deeply poignant as prejudice and bigotry are shown up as products of shallowness, ignorance and ungrounded fear.

Everyone plays their part, everyone contributes, but this was never going to be an ensemble show. It is Partridge who carries it, so expressive, so alive, so vulnerable and so funny. It is a wonderful performance, a huge performance – and the lovely thing is that he gives every indication he is enjoying it every bit as much as we are.