Cake tells the story of Marie Antoinette and the beginning of the French revolution, specifically focussing on the ‘affair of the diamond necklace', where Marie was implicated as an accomplice in a plot to steal diamonds by lesser-known figure Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy.
Cake is littered with references to music and musical theatre throughout history. Given its style as a modern piece of theatre telling an 18th century story, it isn't difficult to compare it with Hamilton – while earlier in the piece, some moments of choreography and overall style felt distractingly reminiscent (though clearly intentional nods), it is when it steps into its own style that it is most engaging. Drew McOnie's choreography and direction is excellent, making brilliant use of the space and creating a production that is consistently visually captivating. The script is fun and witty with some poignant moments, and the music is a triumph throughout.
Every performance in this production is outstanding. The ensemble are sublime, from dancing to vocals; Roger Dipper relishes his inner villain as Cardinal with hilarious flare; and Kandaka Moore owns the stage as aggressively independent Nicole. Renée Lamb confidently takes on role as narrator and protagonist Jeanne, inviting the audience along with her as she tells her story – as well as giving unrelenting power-house vocals, she deftly tackles some fantastically tricky rap to great effect.
Perhaps appropriately, Zizi Strallen is the glittering star of this show as Marie Antoinette herself – completely mesmerising at every turn, she beautifully relishes in blissful vanity with clear depth of character and a range, vocally and emotionally, that is rarely seen on stage. She delivers brilliantly powerful ballads alongside show-stopping pop numbers, while also mastering the challenging choreography without seeming to break a sweat. If it weren't so utterly impressive, one might feel bitter about this level of talent on display! Though it should also be noted that it is when Strallen and Lamb harmonize that goosebumps appear, and it's difficult to imagine that their voices were made to blend with anyone else – truly, stunning.
The set is minimal and adds to the concert tone of the production, with pieces of undressed staging being moved in and around the space by the cast with effective precision. The powerful lighting, though a touch blinding at times, does really help to immerse the audience in the atmosphere and is used creatively. Further, the costumes in this production are amazing; without being overly distracting they offer a fabulous modern twist on the iconic Rococo style.
The thrilling high-energy is muffled towards the end of the show, where the plot becomes a little confusing and more abstract. Perhaps due to it being a long one-act musical, not enough time is given to explaining some sharp twists and turns that take place that could be better unpacked in a two-act production. However, this certainly picks up at the musical's close where the message about playing your part in recognising injustice and changing the course of history (again, this could be more powerfully built to) is emphatically brought to the fore followed by a high-octane – if a little over-indulgent – final dance number.
Cake: The Marie Antoinette Playlist, with work to do but vast potential, is a fabulous night at the theatre and certainly a show worth keeping an eye on for its future development!
It plays at the Lyric Theatre until 24 September.
Review: Penny Lane Photo: Mark Senior