Can-Can – Theatre Review




RUMBUSTIOUSNESS, frivolity and a big dollop of joie d’vivre are all very much in evidence in Phil Willmott’s rollicking (frolicking) musical Can-Can at the Union Theatre in London’s Southwark.

A show that rattles along at a fine lick and leaves the viewer both exhausted and smiling. Wonderfully refreshing fare to wash away any gloom and doom that may be lingering in the background (you know what I mean).

Based around the seismic (and fictional) tensions that exist between the Bontouxs (bankers) and the Orpheus Theatre troupe in the late 1890s, the musical has a bit of everything.

There is music from Jacques Offenbach, Johann Strauss (the younger) and Charles K Harris (the instantly familiar After The Ball). A little ballet, some extraordinary dancing (and I mean thrillingly extraordinary), frilly knickers galore and a gentleman who to coin a phrase can talk through his proverbial arse (a performing farter). Even Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Offenbach are characterised on stage. Never a dull moment. Like an energy bar.

CAN-CAN! La Goulue (PK Taylor) with the Orpheus Theatre Troupe dancers by Scott Rylander
Photos by Scott Rylander

It is a joy from start to finish as the troupe’s star Jane (a magnificent Kathy Peacock) – Queen of the Moulin Rouge – leaves to start a new life with Christian (Damjan Mrackovich), oldest son of Monsieur Bontoux. A massive obstruction lies in their way in the form of the Monsieur (Willmott) who is as crusty as a French baguette and must sanction any wedding.

Still grieving from the loss of his wife, he is as repressive and controlling as a third world dictator. He looks down at Jane with the disdain normally handed out by Parisian waiters to English folk in Paris ordering a coffee without a word of French in their vocabulary. Zut alors.

Will they be allowed to tie the proverbial knot as younger son Cecil was ? Or will it all end in tears? On off. Off on. There are ramifications for the troupe, but ultimately it is the fate of cold fish Monsieur that decides all.

Sprinklings of magic adorn this production. Peacock’s singing and that of the banker’s two maids Lauren Wood and Sarah Kacey is exceptional – as is that of Emily Barnett-Salter who plays a gobby, chain smoking Yvette, a cockney in Paris and the troupe’s comedienne.

Then there is PK Taylor as the marvellously camp La Goulue (The Queen of Montmartre) who has a past connection with the Monsieur. Taylor’s orange wig is so bright that sunglasses are almost required. Corinna Marlowe also excels, doubling up as the troupe’s Russian wardrobe mistress prone to making some astute observations (‘marry a cucumber, wake up with a potato’) and also the Bontouxs’ Great Aunt.

CAN-CAN! far left James Alexander-Chew, (left) Emily Barnett-Salter (Yvette), Kathy Peacock (Jane Avril) and Kasey Claybourn (Colette)
Photos by Scott Rylander

The dancing and the high kicking is both fun and eye watering – male and female – although the star turn is Grace Manley’s Margot Bontoux (Cecil’s wife) whose transition from a somewhat dowdy wife to a dancing supremo is nothing short of sensational. Four minutes of magic. Strictly Come Dancing surely beckons.

With some fine costumes designed by Penn O’Gara, super direction from Phil Setren and winning musical arrangements and direction from Richard Baker and Rosa Lennox respectively, Can-Can is Fun-Fun.

Jordan Nesbitt and Sarah Kacey also deserve a special mention for licking the cast into dancing shape.

All rather uplifting. Can-Can. Go-Go. Must-Must.

Visit the Union Theatre

Can-Can! Poster Image 2
Photos by Scott Rylander


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