With a rowdy opening of ‘Backstage Ballet’ the scene was set for Phil Willmott’s staging of Can-Can! as we were introduced to the Orphius Theatre Troupe where Jane (Kathy Peacock) is leaving the ensemble she treasures so much to marry the well to do Christian Bontoux (Damjan Mrackovich), writes Susan Hallissey.

Jane soon finds practising the life of a lady increasingly difficult (she is on a trial run as it were!) and stifling. After an evening when her friends visit, she decides to leave and return to the stage. This is wonderful news to Monsieur Bontoux (Phil Willmott), the father who felt his son would be marrying beneath him. However, he has other plans to ruin the troupe.

Scattered throughout a clichéd storyline is an abundance of songs and large ensemble dance scenes, and you cannot deny the gusto and exuberance of the performers – The choreography is remarkable considering the size of the cast and venue. Plus, I must mention the divine La Goulue played by PK Taylor. La Goulue’s opening song in act two is deadpan and humorous and one of my favourite pieces of the show. Another shout out to the awesome Tango performed by Margot (Grace Manley) and Jacques (James Alexander-Chew).

But back to the ‘plot’: In Act Two the now estranged Christian and Jane demonstrate their anguish in a more contemporary and moving dance sequence, and drawing to a close, Christian announces how amazing the finale will be and he is not wrong. This is the rip-roaring event of the evening with high kicks, splits, whooping and screaming.

Alas, there were no surprises in this piece – even the La Goulue and Monsieur Bontoux storyline was less than a revelation. So if you want to see great dancing with a young and energetic cast then go along, but do expect a stilted and dated plot that holds the dancing together like a thin thread and is often unnecessary.  It’s a Can Can that too often Can’t.

Can-Can! is on at The Union Theatre, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR until March 9th. Times: Tues – Sat 7.30pm; weekend matinees 2.30pm. Admission: £22.50. Phone: 0207 261 9876


Photos: credit Scott Rylander