Move over Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and the rest of Henry’s wives – there’s a new queen in town. Cake: the Marie Antoinette Playlist gives the notorious French queen the Six treatment in this gig musical that fuses pop, rap, contemporary ballet, rave and hip-hop.
The show focusses on the Affair of the Diamond Necklace – a historical scandal that damaged the queen’s already tarnished reputation and contributed to the French Revolution – as told by the real character, Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy. Jeanne plots to bring down the queen by stealing a diamond necklace, but her scheme (involving a cardinal, a prostitute, forged letters and fake friendships) soon goes awry with disastrous consequences. It’s a lot to fit into 70 minutes, and as a result the storytelling and character development is rather rushed – it’s not clear exactly why Jeanne needs the diamonds in particular or why she is being painted as a revolutionary figure (in real life, she was greedy, opportunistic and very much guilty of theft).
This issue aside, the show is a hugely enjoyable watch with an appealing soundtrack and a cast who give it their all. Renée Lamb’s vocals are sensational; Travis Ross squeezes every ounce of camp, filthy humour out of his appearances as the lecherous cardinal; and the whole cast nail Drew McOnie’s dynamic, multi-genre choreography. The show may fuse many styles and genres – including some very deliberate satire drawing parallels with the corrupt French court and the current UK government – but it all works together and never feels messy.
It’s hard to imagine someone more perfect to play Marie Antoinette than musical theatre superstar Zizzi Strallen. In her costume of pink ‘not a wig,’ pink leotard, cage skirt and high-heeled boots, she looks like an 18th century Barbie doll; her stage presence is magnetic, her voice is jaw-droppingly versatile and she is incredibly funny as the posh, privileged and obliviously self-centred royal. Having only ever seen her on much larger stages, it’s a real treat to watch a performer like Strallen up close in the smaller Quays Theatre.
Although ‘Cake’ is fun as gig theatre, it would also work brilliantly as an amped-up production with more dancers and extras, set and costume changes. It’s hard to envisage opulent palaces and crowded city slums – and the class divide between them – with just 5 performers and no set. The concept, the music and the raw energy of this stage could easily transfer to a bigger stage and fill a longer run time. But maybe that’s just me wanting my cake and eating it too.
Cake The Marie Antoinette Playlist is at The Lowry from 28 March – 1 April 2023.