Union Theatre, Southwark (venue)
14 February 2019 (released)
15 February 2019
CAN-CAN! is a high energy, exuberant romp set in 1890s Fin de Siecle Paris. We meet the Orpheus theatre troop in all their petticoat flashing, hipflask swigging, whooping glory, immortalised in the paintings of Toulouse Lautrec who himself appears in the show.
Christian Bontoux, heir to the Bontoux banking fortune, is engaged to Jane Avril, a performer at the Orpheus. As a condition of giving his blessing to their marriage, Christian's father Monsieur Bontoux, requires Jane to stay in the Bontoux residence to experience 'proper' society. Her theatre friends come to see how she is getting on, but when the cacophony disturbs Monsieur Bontoux he gives an ultimatum to Jane. Stifled and unhappy, she returns to the theatrical world she knows. Monsieur Bontoux, disgusted at his son, spends Christian's inheritance buying the Orpheus theatre in order to shut it down. Christian runs away, and the Orpheus troop are forced on tour.
The deprivations of touring theatre provides some great comic moments and we learn more about some of the performers, notably La Goulue who has a romantic history with Monsieur Bontoux, performed with a captivating balance between world-weary cynic and romantic hopeful. When a letter comes from Christian, who is performing on the Paris stage, the Bontoux Bank goes bust. How will (dis)order be restored?
Adam Haigh's superb choreography is particularly impressive in such an intimate space. Christian and Jane's yearning ballet is a highlight, as is the entire company's spectacular final number. The intimacy works beautifully for this production, making the experience almost immersive, particularly for the front row. The music is a varied mix of melodies by Jacques Offenbach and his contemporaries with new lyrics, all beautifully sung: the operatic harmonies of the Maids' Song being the best example.
Slightly hampered by clunky dialogue in places, perhaps the only weak point, the performers are effervescent in conveying the uplifting message that love conquers all and is more enduring than mere money. If you have friends to high-kick with, there is nothing that can't be overcome.
At the Union Theatre, Southwark until 9 March.